4. The Yarrawonga Years 1884 to 1909

by lindacairnes2

The Yarrawonga Years


Frontpage 1883-1983 Yarrawonga Chron Centenary Issue.
WBC and his building are seen at the bottom of the page.

There is much evidence of WBC’s presence in Yarrawonga, from about 1882. He continues to be both a Magistrate and JP in both NSW and Victoria along this border region. He has a timber yard, sells ironmongery, furniture, is an insurance agent, and continues as an undertaker. His elder sons begin their working lives here and his eldest daughters marry into prosperous local families.

Golf Club Yarrawonga,1886 perhaps

Golf Club Yarrawonga,1886 Above sees a recognisable WBC in the second row, 2nd left.

In 1888, WBC’s mother, Theresa, dies in Yarrawonga. She too is buried back in Castlemaine in the family plot at Cambell’s Creek Cemetery..


An oil portrait of Theresa Holmes ( Cairnes) WBC’s mother.

in the The Argus. Tuesday 24 January 1888

. —On the 19th inst. at Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia, Theresa, relict of the late Captain Montgomery Cairnes, late aide-de-camp (or Chief of Staff ) to Sir Ronald  Ferguson, in Holland, also aide-de-camp to Sir  George Don, Governor of Gibraltar, and beloved  mother of W. B. Cairnes, timber merchant, Yarrawonga, aged 88 years.

In 1889  WBC stands as a MP but fails to win. There is an amusing speech he gives during his campaign published in the North Eastern Ensign.

“Mr W. B. Cairnes, one of the candidates who seeks the representation of  the Benalla and Yarrawonga constituency in the Legislative Assembly, delivered his political address ‘to the electors of Benalla in the Rechabite  hall, on Wednesday evening last. The.hall .was well filled and the chair Was occupied by Councillor Coster.

Mr Cairnes, in his introductory remarks; said- amongst a number of other things :- ‘- About 35 years ago I settled in Castlemaine,’ where I ‘got married,-and am now the father, of fifteen children (roars of laughter).  Oh (addressing Mr Bindon) its all very well for you to laugh like that but you may have a ‘great deal more children, if the truth’ were known than I.(roars of, laughter again). Three of my daughters are married, and three of my sons are Rechabites The next

place I went to. was Echuca,, where I carried on business-at the same time I lived in Moama-an was made aJustice of. the Peace for’New South Wales: My’ whole career has been to try to do good. but all the thanks I have got as yet is more kicks (great laughter) than ha’pence. My wife  used to upbraid me for doing the public business for nothing. But still I kept’ on working away. As a magistrate I, have always,been very. lenient, so as to get the thanks of those I sentenced.

(Roars of laughter’again). ‘Had it not been for the subdivision of the electorate, and our members not standing

for this portion of Moira, I would not have come  forward,  The speaker then commenced to discourse on politics.

He said :-I am a Liberal and a Protectionist, and have always been such…. the speech goes on for twice as long!

WBC is one of the founder members of the Masonic Lodge,  and becomes a rechabite (teetotal movement)( another amusing speech) ,  and he also sets up and is Capt of the Yarrawonga Riflemen’s Association.


WBC, top right, in group portrait of the Yarrawonga Rifle Club.1886

WBC Rifle Club Plaque

WBC Rifle Club Plaque

WBC Postcard 1901 found on Ebay - sadly already sold.

WBC Postcard 1901 found on Ebay – sadly already sold.

WBC 1901  Front of Postcard found sold on Ebay. The rifle club is run on military lines!

WBC 1901 Front of Postcard found sold on Ebay. The rifle club is run on military lines!

1891. Womens Suffrage Petition

In an extraordinary effort to gain the right to vote for all Victorian women, a handful of dedicated women took to the streets in 1891 to collect signatures for a petition to present to the Parliament of Victoria. The result was an impressive collection of close to 30,000 signatures from women from all walks of life.

The page of the 1891 Suffrage Petition where Elizabeths name is halfway down and Mary's is at the bottom.

The page of the 1891 Suffrage Petition where Elizabeths name is halfway down and Mary’s is at the bottom.

One can search the petition for the names. I am extremely proud that one finds both Elizabeth Cairnes ( Matthews) of Gingell St Castlemaine, and her mother Mary Matthews ,  of Castlemaine Hospital. They took the opportunity to add their names. It also tells us that Elizabeth spent time with her mother in Castlemaine, even though at this time she was living in Yarrawonga.

In 1900  WBC publishes a pamphlet listing some family history, his offspring, and quotes:

“I, William Bellingham Cairnes, now residing in Yarrawonga, Victoria, Australia, am in this year of 1900, 68 years of age. I have 12 children still living, and 26 grandchildren. I am still in robust health and in active pursuit of my business. The following brief sketch of my career in Australia was published in the in the Melbourne Weekly Times , in November 1896.

Mr WB Cairnes,JP( Justice of the Peace)Mr W B Cairnes, JP,whose portrait will be found in this illustration, may be regarded as one of Yarrawonga’s pioneer residents, as also one of its most striking personalities.He arrived in the colony in 1854, and is now 64 yrs of age,hale and hearty, and one of the crack rifle shots of the colony. When the Rifle Club movement was started in this colony he was one of the foremost to start a club at Yarrawonga, some 12 years ago, to which he was appointed captain, a position he retains to the present day by the unanimous wishes of the members. He was also appointed captain of the No.1 district on resigning which he was especially thanked by Lt Colonel Price for the creditable manner in which he filled the position. Though essentially of a military turn of mind, Mr Cairnes has shown himself a thorough business man, and with a keen taste for public life. He was appointed honorary magistrate of NSW in 1878 and of Victoria in 1881, and these commissions he still retains. He performs a large amount of magisterial work in both colonies. For several years he held the position of official assignee at Yarrawonga and also that of Govt Commissioner in the Shire of Yarrawonga waterworks Trust, on resigning which he received a letter from the minister thanking him for the services he had rendered the Govt. He was one of the founders of the Masonic Lodge, EC, at Yarrawonga, and during his long residence in this town may be coupled with almost every important movement for the wellbeing and advancement of the place, being in his time President of the Mechanics institute, President of the Progess Committee,,President of the Rowing Club, President of the Cricket Club etc. His Timber and Ironmongery establishment, which is among the pictures of this supplement, has through his energy, become a large and profitable business.’

In 1898 his father in law Robert Matthews dies in Castlemaine. His wife Mary, moves to Yarrawonga, to be with her daughter Elizabeth Cairnes.

Mary Matthews dies in 1903 at the Yarrawonga family home, “Cairnesville”.

2013 Cairnesville up for sale Yarrawonga

2013 ‘Cairnesville’ up for sale Yarrawonga @ $500,000

“MATTHEWS.-On the 3rd May,t 1903, at “Cairnesville,”

Yarrawonga, Mary, relict of the late  Robert Matthews, of Castlemaine, and dearly be-loved mother of Mrs. W.B. Cairnes, Yarrawonga, aged 82years. Buried at Castlemaine. “Nearer  my God to Thee.” 

Both Mary and Robert are buried at Cambell’s Creek Cemetery with other members of the Cairnes family.

Cairnes family Plot Cambells Creek Cemetery, with Max Cairnes 2013

Cairnes family Plot Cambells Creek Cemetery, with Max Cairnes 2013

1906 brings the Golden Wedding Anniversary of William and Elizabeth.

1906. WBC (aged 73)  and Elizabeth's ( aged 64 )Golden Wedding Anniversary.

1906. WBC (aged 73) and Elizabeth’s ( aged 64 )Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Elizabeth Matthews ( Cairnes) cropped from the photo of their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1906

Elizabeth Matthews ( Cairnes) cropped from the photo of their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1906

On the 16th of July, 1909, after raising 16 children, Elizabeth dies, age 67, in Yarrawonga –  of Brights Disease, often associated with diabetes and kidney failure after a long illness. Not surprising after all those children.


Her gravestone is marked “ In memory of Elizabeth, beloved wife of W B Cairnes, died 16th July 1909, aged 67 years. A devoted wife and mother. Our wedded life for over 52 years was one of perfect love. We are only parted darling for a little while. A great sufferer at rest”

WBC clearly missed the comfort she brought to her family.

William started his young life in Australia back in the 1850’s, in the height of the gold rush years, apprenticing as an undertaker. He spent a lifetime attending to hundreds of the dead. Rich and poor, strong and weak, laying out both children and the very old. He interred both the murdered  and furnished the bereaved with a fitting funeral.  Also the murderers, buried in quicklime within the confines of Castlemaine Gaol. Unmarked, and often forgotten.

Its no wonder Elizabeth’s stone has such tender sentiments. William would have had a better sense of the impermanent, than most of us.

Here  is a link to another  Australian Cairnes family history site with strong links to WBC created by Richard Rawson . Its very good.

Below are all the posts listed


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