Tag Archives: Back Creek

The Sink of Iniquity


IniquityTitle02bEducation in The Sink of Iniquity

A history of education in the Amherst and Talbot districts between 1836 and 1862.

This is an impressive piece of historical research. The author has taken a discrete area of early Victoria very directly affected by the gold rushes and has examined the history of schooling in that area over a period of some twenty six years. The result is a narrative that is at once informative and interesting, and gives a valuable insight into the actual functioning of the schooling ‘system’ at the grass roots level under the two boards prior to the Common Schools Act. It highlights the difficulties in establishing schools—the problems of distance with long delays in communication between Local Boards of Management and the central Boards; the lack of funds; the ongoing lack of support from the working people and the reliance on a few individuals to keep the schools going.

The thesis is an important contribution to the history of early Victoria.

This is an impressive piece of historical research.  The author has taken a discrete area of early Victoria directly affected by the gold rushes and has examined the history of schooling in that area…  The thesis is an important contribution to the history of early Victoria… The scholarship associated with the research is meticulous.  A great amount of work has been done using the extant archives and other sources.  The author has used these judiciously and intelligently throughout the thesis.  Referencing is always adequate, consistent and accurate.”

Dr Bob Bessant, La Trobe University.

Picture this – Back Creek, as Talbot was then known, in April 1859:

“Crime is alarmingly on the increase, and although the police force has been enlarged, it is still far below the requirements of the immense population. Inspector Ryan has joined the force, and his office is no sinecure; garotte robberies, sticking-up, and fights are becoming alarmingly common. Several cases of shoplifting may be added to the category of offences and one or two cases of selling spurious gold.” Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser quoted in Argus, Wednesday 20 April 1859, p. 7.

“Crime is frightfully on the increase in this district, and the hordes of thieves and murderers on the rush are becoming emboldened from the comparative immunity which they enjoy. At present Detective Slattery and a handful of constables are the only men to keep down hundreds of villains of the deepest dye. The report I have forwarded you, of the murderous attack on Mrs Ross, is only one of several crimes … Several cases of sticking-up have come to our knowledge … A butcher named Wills was pounced on by four armed men near Sault’s Hotel … A woman was stabbed in the face on Wednesday night … On Tuesday night a man had his jaw broken … The feeling among the inhabitants is one of great insecurity. A Court of Petty Sessions will he held daily at Wrigley’s Hotel, on and after Monday.” Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser quoted in Argus, Monday 16 May 1859, p. 5.

Back Creek was experiencing a massive gold rush. The population had reached 30,000. Not only were there murders, robberies and all kinds of other lawlessness, but Back Creek was described as the very sink of iniquity.
In the midst of all this were the children and the desire to provide them with some form of education to prevent them falling into heathenism and barbarianism.
But the Denominational Schools argued with each other. The Presbyterians would not allow their children to attend the Anglican schools. The teachers were often untrained and just as susceptible to the lure of gold as the parents. The Boards of Education took months to pay bills and salaries.
This is the story of how education was provided to the children of this district, from a time long before the gold rushes, a time when the only children were those of the squatters and their servants, through to 1862 when the Common Schools system established in an attempt to overcome the inter-Denominational rivalries, and to avoid wasteful duplication in communities that could barely sustain one school, let alone two or three.


Introduction 3

Australia Felix  13

Educating the Squatters’ Children 20

The Buninyong Boarding School 37

Religion and Education at Burnbank  47

The Mystery of Daisy Hill  59

George Rusden’s Rural Ride  65

Gold At Daisy Hill 69

The Tempting of Frederick Pickering 77

The Battle of Burnbank- 85

Dinner at Daisy Hill  99

The Advent of Amherst 106

The Great Rush to Back Creek  115

The Very Sink of Iniquity  127

Tyrannical and Irresponsible Men

The Amherst Church of England School  147

The Amherst Presbyterian School 189

The Back Creek National School  202

The Back Creek Church of England School 225

The Wesleyan Schools at Back Creek  244

The Back Creek Roman Catholic School 251

Benjamin Atkinson’s School  261

Mechanics Institutions & Literary Associations 274

In Conclusion 299

Bibliography  308

Purchase this book:

The Sink of Iniquity (ISBN: 9781320658768) is now available for purchase at this link: The Sink of Iniquity

The Sink of Iniquity (ISBN: 9781320618793) is also available for purchase through The Book Depository; AmazonBarnes & Noble; Readings ;  AbeBooks; Booktopia; and other outlets.


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The Cossticks 1700-1900
Between the time of their marriage in 1818 and 1846 Samuel Cosstick and Mary Weller had thirteen children. They were living at Croydon, Surrey – then a small town south of London.
As their children grew up social conditions in England worsened and news arrived of wonderful new opportunities in the colonies of Autralia.
Many took the chance and travelled half way around the world to start a new life. For those who had doubts the announcement of gold discoveries in the Port Philip district during the early 1850s was hard to resist.
Six of the Cosstick sons and one daughter decided to go to Australia during the 1850s.
Henry and William made a respectable living both looking for gold and servicing the needs of other goldseekers.
John tried his luck in New Zealand for several years before returning to Victoria.
Charles also went to New Zealand and then to Canada.
George and Sam, especially Sam, left the gold for others and played cricket instead.
This is the story of the Cossticks.

When the first edition of this book was published in 1999, it set out to give some substance to the bare names and dates that usually make up a “Family Tree” – who were they; where did they come from; what did they do; why did they come to Australia. It also set out to clarify some of the myths and legends that arise when stories are passed down from one generation to another.

Much of this story relates the adventures of six Cosstick brothers who came to Victoria during the 1850s, and, where possible follows some of their descendants down to the year 1900 – because after that there were just too many descendants to do justice to them all. The book does not comprehensively covering all possible branches of the family or all possible stories.

One family is inevitably related to many others and brief excursions are made into the stories of other families which were related to the Cossticks — the Shove, Henderson, Martin, Matthews, and Reeves families for example. The Hamilton family, connected to the Cossticks through marriages to John and William Cosstick in the early 1860s, have had their story told in The Hamiltons 1762-1862.

As usually happens, as soon as the book was printed new information was discovered, and people called to say their branch of the family had been left out. That is almost inevitable in historical research. A second edition was subsequently published and is the version available from the link below.

A third edition is being prepared and includes new details about Samuel Cosstick’s last years in Croydon, Surrey; new information about Henry Cosstick’s last years after leaving Amherst and returning from Queensland; and new details of what Charles and John Cosstick did in New Zealand and Charles’ business interests and reasons for leaving New Zealand.

There has been substantial rewriting and extensive new information about Sam Cosstick, his wife Annie Shove and her father Andrew Shove, and an expansion of the section on Luke and Ruth Martin whose granddaughter Lusy Elizabeth Martin married James Edward Cosstick. There are also additional chapters about the descendants of John Cosstick and Hannah Best, including the family of Edwin Chapman Cosstick.

The story of the Cossticks in the Australia of the nineteenth century is inseparably linked to the story of the town of Amherst. A substantial chapter on the development of that town and the events of the 1850s and 1860s has been included. Those who have a greater interest in the history of the town might like to refer to The Sink of Iniquity : Education in the Amherst and Talbot Districts 1836-1862, which is based on the 1986 MEd Thesis The History of Education in the Amherst and Talbot Districts 1836-1862.

The story of the Cossticks is not just a family history, it is a social history.

Comments about the extracts from the 2nd edition of The Cossticks available on the internet:

“Thank you so much, the anecdotes and character descriptions of the “children of Green Gully” mean so much to us when we sit at the peaceful ruins of their home. Will we ever know the fate of Tom Davis? My version of your book doesn’t go that far…I would happily buy the next version if you are writing it!” Cheers Airlie

“This website has been an invaluable source in researching our family histories. Thank you so much for sharing it all.” Suzie.

“I have enjoyed reading this article about the Cossticks, and only wish I’d found it sooner! … Thank you for the lovely insight!” Jennifer Harding

“Thanks for this. I have been looking into Daisy Cosstick for a friend of mine. Thank you,” Vicky

“Wow… very nice.” Jason Herboth, Canada

“Daisy Dorothy was my grandmother, its great to read all about her.” Joanna, London

“I found your article very interesting and informative. Lots of information I didn’t know. Thank you very much!” Susan Griggs

“I find the article on the Cossticks in the early years very interesting. Thanks.” Phillip Cosstick, Port Huron, Michigan.

“So fascinated to find this site!”Vicky Cosstick, England

“This is great info.” Michelle Pogue

“Congratulations on your website and research … I found this history helpful.” Anonymous

“Thank you so much for compiling so much information and making it available to everyone. … I find it all very fascinating.” Penny Cassie, Kempsey NSW

“This is cool.” Don Cosstick, Stratford, Ontario, Canada

Purchase this book

The 2nd Edition of The Cossticks can be purchasedhere.


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The Hamiltons 1762-1862


James Hamilton was born around 1740. He married twice and had several children including John Hamilton, and Richard Hamilton.
John Hamilton went to sea and became involved in the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 then was later in charge of the Dover to Calais ferry, with his regular passengers including British and Belgian Royalty. He was knighted for his services during the 1840s.
Richard Hamilton became an apprentice tailor and set up business in the same street as his older brother John in Dover.
Both John and Richard had families, the descendants of whom are spread around the world today. This book follows the story of Richard’s children – in particular Richard Hamilton the Second who, after following his father’s trade as a tailor for some years eventually decided to emigrate with his family to South Australia .
The British Government was keen to establish a colony in South Australia to discourage the French from doing the same. There was nothing there and the Hamilton family and their fellow travellers became true pioneers in a new land.

The 2012 2nd Edition edition is a revised version of the book first published in 1997 and contains a number of new details about the Hamilton family not included in the first edition. A further revised 3rd Edition is currently being prepared to answer a number of questions and ambiguities arising from the earlier editions.

Purchase this book

The 2012 revised edition of The Hamiltons can be purchased from this link:


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1849 The Rush That Never Started: Forgotten origins of the 1851 gold rushes in Victoria

1849 Blurb 5x8 Cover 006

Many people have the impression that the Victorian gold rushes not only began in mid-1851, but also occurred in response to discoveries earlier in that year near Bathurst, west of Sydney. Not so! The Victorian gold rushes of 1851 were a direct consequence of a largely forgotten gold discovery two years earlier in the Pyrenees Ranges of the Port Phillip District.
This is the story of how, in the summer of 1849, one shepherd and three ex-convicts started a gold rush involving hundreds of Melbourne residents. It is the story of how the shepherd disappeared leading to speculation about whether he was murdered or left the country with a fortune. It is the story of how one of the ex-convicts, a Frenchman, publicised the discovery, started a rush, and claimed a reward from Superintendent Charles La Trobe. La Trobe refused; the Frenchman went to California where he told his story; and Edward Hargraves returned to Australia and did exactly the same near Bathurst. It is the story of how another of the ex-convicts subsequently denied there was ever a gold field, but suddenly became very rich and, within three years, purchased no fewer than twelve Melbourne properties. These are the little people, forgotten by big histories.

Many histories have portrayed Charles La Trobe, the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, as an indecisive and ineffective governor. Again—not so! This book explains how how La Trobe’s attitude towards gold exploitation prior to 1851 originated in his desire to advance the interests of Port Phillip as an independent colony, and how La Trobe discouraged gold mining until after Port Phillip’s separation from New South Wales to ensure the revenue would be expended solely for Victoria’s benefit. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the inequitable distribution of Port Phillip revenue by the New South Wales government in Sydney. This was one of the causes of ongoing competition, even antagonism, between Sydney and Melbourne that still exists today. To open a gold field while Port Phillip was still part of New South Wales would be to hand the benefits to Sydney.

This book demonstrates that the actions of those accredited with the 1851 gold discoveries, such as Edward Hargraves, were influenced by the actions of those involved in 1849 Pyrenees discovery, and shows how natural environmental events such as drought, flood and bush fires also played an influential role the discovery of gold both in 1849 and in 1851—it was no so much gold-mining that affected the environment, but environmental factors that actually facilitated gold discovery.
In particular this book challenges the explanations given by such eminent historians such as AGL Shaw and Geoffrey Blainey – hence the title that alludes to Blainey’s history of the Australian mining industry, The Rush That Never Ended.

Not only does this story provide a new insight into the origins of the Victorian gold rushes, but also provides a fascinating account of the lives of several key protagonists in the 1849 episode – Alexandre Duchene a Frenchman and a watchmaker; Charles Brentani, an Italian and an entrepreneurial businessman; and Joseph Forrester, a Scot and a silversmith. All were ex-convicts from Van Diemen’s Land And there was Thomas Chapman, the shepherd, and an ‘exile’ to Port Phillip. These were the little people—long forgotten in big histories. This is their story.

The narrative that forms the central part the book provides a more nuanced picture of the social, political and environmental connections linking the old pastoral society of 1849 Port Phillip to the emerging minerals based economy of Victoria after 1851 than has previously existed, and explains the circumstances of the Victorian gold discoveries of 1851 in ways that challenge many long-standing traditional explanations.

After reading 1849 The Rush That Never Started, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, author of The Rush That Never Ended, wrote the following in a letter:

‘Congratulations on “1849”. You are a talented researcher. You must continue at your craft.’

What the critics say:

Professor Emerita Susan Ballyn, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain: “…covers new and unexplored ground regarding the first discovery of gold in Australia and of the socio/politics of the time that left this event relatively unexplored and relegated to mere references even in the work of historians such as Blainey.” “How does one collate such a huge amount of material into a coherent narrative without the main thrust of the thesis becoming blurred, obscured and basically a mere compendium of facts. Wilkie has managed this extremely well by the rigorous way he has dealt with the material.” “Wilkie discusses to a degree the reliability of historical narrative, the uncertainties that appear and how they must be dealt with and he points out that “The process of determining the degree of possibility, probability and certainty surrounding some of the events described in the narrative required … not only inductive logic, but also a degree of historiographical intuition”. At this Wilkie is not only exceptionally good, but also extremely careful as to how far one can push both inductive logic and historiographical intuition. His narrative is free of over hypothesisation or substantiating facts which cannot be determined by the documents used. Wilkie ends by stating ‘…while acknowledging that further analysis and research may provide explanations that differ from mine, I believe the narrative that follows does provide a reasonably sound and complete mechanism for understanding the events and decisions of the period.’ This is undoubtedly the case as Wilkie does fill the historical gap regarding the 1849 discovery of gold in a very credible way. In terms of the originality of this thesis and Wilkie’s ability to engage both with the wealth of material to hand and the production of a clear, constrained narrative uncluttered by unnecessary theoretical jargon, there is no doubt in my mind that he has produced a very finely wrought thesis. One of the things that is important to me as a thesis examiner is that I should be on a learning curve while reading … In the case of Wilkie’s thesis, this has certainly been the case…”

Dr David Roberts, Senior Lecturer, University of New England, Armidale, NSW: “… engaging and satisfying … I found this work somewhat refreshing … it demonstrated an intimacy and depth of knowledge that was persuasive and sometimes compelling … allowed us to get beneath the skin of the people, and to see possible connections between a variety of episodes, many of which have certainly been underappreciated and misunderstood in existing literature.” I liked the manner in which it moved from the revealing of an obscure and unappreciated episode—an 1849 gold discovery in the Pyrenees Ranges—to a broader exposition of political and social circumstances shaping the Port Phillip district in the troubled years preceding its separation from New South Wales. [The author has succeeded] in presenting a vast accumulation of data in a manner that was coherent and convincing, with sufficient signposting of both story and argument, and that is an achievement not to be underestimated.”

Purchase this book:

1849: The Rush That Never Started (ISBN: 9781320625470) can be purchased through Blurb: 1849: The Rush That Never Started

1849: The Rush That Never Started (ISBN: 9781320575751) can also be purchased from Amazon USA; or Amazon UK; Wheelers (Aust); Readings (Aust); The Book Depository (UK); and other online retailers.


1849: The Rush That Never Started can be found in the following libraries:

Bailleau Library (The University of Melbourne)

State Library of Queensland

State Library of Victoria

 National Library of Australia

 Prahran Mechanics Institute Library

Click the cover image to preview the book:


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