2. The Castlemaine Years 1854 to 1873

by lindacairnes2



Mostyn St Castlemaine. An image found by accident from the Holterman Collection, wrongly attributed as W B Caires!

It is known that WBC  and his  elder sister Theresa  Sophia made their way to Castlemaine fairly soon after arrival in the colony of Victoria. There is evidence of  Theresa marrying a Phillip Clements in Castlemaine. (Had this marriage been arranged prior to their journey to Australia?  They had a daughter named Ruth Clements born in Cambells Creek in 1861.)

So, as is evident,  WBC was not without family in these early years. He also had 2 first cousins who migrated from Ireland just a little later. Claudius  Beresford Cairnes ( 1840 – 1910) and  his brother Elliott Moore Cairnes( 1843 -1918) Claudius was Bank Manager of NSW Bank in Parramatta and Elliott was a geologist and worked for the Victoria Ministry of Mines.

William was found living in a tent on the goldfields near to where one of the very first miners cottages, was built. The land was owned by a Robert Matthews from Leicestershire and his wife Mary Browne /Martin ( there are conflicting family names for Mary in some family histories) and their only child Elizabeth Mary. Robert was a miner,  and Mary  was  matron of Castlemaine Hospital from 1870 to 1891. Records in Castlemaine corroborate these facts and that house is still in existence though greatly enlarged. (See link above where the history of the house is mentioned in the first pages of the book.) The Matthews are first recorded in 1858 as living on the site in a tent.

Development of the Matthews Cottage into what it is today. Photo: Dr M Theobald Historian.

Development of the Matthews Cottage into what it is today. Photo: Dr M Theobald Historian.

Elizabeth Matthews and WBC married in the English Church, at the School House, Castlemaine 19th Feb 1856. He was 24, she 15. Their first child, William, was born in 1859 in Castlemaine. Their last in 1886 in Yarrawonga. Looking at the photograph of Elizabeth aged 19, we can see she was a great beauty, and in a place such as Gold Rush Castlemaine ,she must have caught the eye of many a man.

Elizabeth Cairnes aged 19, from an album of WBC's

Elizabeth Cairnes aged 19, from an album of WBC’s

Its is not clear what William was doing at these early stages in Castlemaine, but there is soon evidence of him working as an assistant Undertaker and then in 1856 as a partner with Goodall as  independent undertakers. There is also much evidence on Trove   the National Archive Digital Newspaper, of him working as a timber merchant, and  as an undertaker (even burying executed prisoners in the gaol ). He was also an innkeeper,and ironmonger, and a crack shot in Rifle Association competitions. He is also seen to have won the prize for best Brick in the Agricultural show!

Castlemaine Gaol built in 1861. WBC was evidenced interring executed prisoners here for the prison service.

Castlemaine Gaol built in 1861. WBC was evidenced interring executed prisoners here for the prison service.

WBC in his 30's from an album of WBC's

WBC in his 30’s from an album of WBC’s

Above is a photo of WBC in his late 30’s. My father Keith Beresford Cairnes had his long articulate fingers and they made for ideal musicians fingers. I don’t know if WBC played an instrument. He did at least make sure his seventh son Harry, was a fine pianist, so I am assuming music was a priority in the family, as it was for most families who could afford lessons and a piano ! I can also see he shared his large lobed ears with his grandson, my father.

There were also times of insolvency recorded in Castlemaine.

The family left Castlemaine about 1874. William would have been in his early 40’s.They moved with their growing family to the Echuca area where the rail had recently arrived and business, especially in the timber industry was booming.

Castlemaine went through enormous changes in that period . From a sprawling tent city  at the height of the gold rush to a prosperous rural hub. There is an excellent book-  Castlemaine, From Camp to City by Geoff Hocking – which shows an advertisement of WBC’s as an Undertaker 1856 on Page 92. On page 170 there is an 1873 photo of Mostyn St showing WBCairnes Builders Supplies, from the Holtermann Collection. I only wish that photo could have shown some of the family too! Another book by Geoff Hocking Early Castlemaine 1851-1863 describes many of the changes in Castlemaine.


Castemaine 1860’s with its many temporary structures

1872 Castlemaine Mostyn St. W B Cairnes Ironmonger.

1872 Castlemaine Mostyn St. W B Cairnes Ironmonger.

2013 Mostyn St Castlemaine, Max Cairnes WBCs  grt grt grandson

2013.  On the same spot in Mostyn St, Castlemaine, with Max Cairnes – WBCs grt grt grandson.

Click on the links below for the other posts


1. William Bellingham Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthews

2. The Castlemaine Years 1854 to 1873

3. Echuca and Moama 1874 to 1883

4. The Yarrawonga Years 1884 to 1909

5. Endings 1909 to 1923

6. Past Belongings : a digital collection of historical belongings to share

7. W B Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthew’s Children in Chronological Order

8.The Western Australia Cairnes

9. Helen Dind – WBC’s Granddaughter – 100 years – a Celebration

10. Keith Beresford Cairnes : 26 Years in Muston St Mosman