Digby, South West Victoria, Australia
Settlement & Timeline

Digby Hotel in 2000 The settlement of Digby in south western Victoria was established at a river crossing on the Stokes River (Emu Creek), on the Emu Creek Pastoral Run. It was one of the early settlements on the wagon route north from Portland Bay to the rich pastoral lands of the interior soon after the first permanent settlement of Portland Bay by the Henty Brothers in 1834. The Hentys took up the pastoral runs of "Merino Downs", "Sandford" and "Muntham" to the north of Digby in 1837.

According to Les Blake's book : "Place Names of Victoria," Digby, Victoria was named after the village of Digby in Lincolnshire, England.

Acknowledgment : The source of many items of early information has been the booklet "Heritage" prepared for the "Back to Merino - Digby" celebrations in 1977 and now out of print.

Digby Timeline

1834 - The Henty Brothers establish the first permanent Victorian settlement at Portland Bay.

1836 - In August, 1836 Major Thomas Mitchell passed a few miles to the west of present day Digby as he explored down the Glenelg River and then onto Portland Bay where he meets and tells the Henty Brothers about the rich grazing lands to the north.

1837 - The Hentys take up land, which they later call "Merino Downs" to the north of what is to become Emu Creek (Digby). They also settled the adjoining Pastoral Runs of "Sandford" and "Muntham" in the same year with sheep first arriving at "Muntham" on 3 August 1837.

1839 - Duncan McRAE visited Port Phillip in Dec., 1839 from Van Diemen's Land. Then, in partnership with Alexander ROSE of "Cora Lynn", near Launceston, he shipped 800 sheep and supplies to Portland Bay in 1840 and took up land in the Wannon country, adjoining that occupied by the Hentys. He paid his licence before the Hentys and thus thought to have become the first legal squatter in the area.

1841 - "Glenorchy" Pastoral Run occupied by Duncan McRAE.

1842 - Donald McKENZIE along with his hut keeper Frederick EDINGE, killed by Aborigines at his station on McKenzie Creek which joins the Emu Creek south of Digby, Victoria in March 1842. They were buried on the property at McKenzie Creek.

1843 - According to Noel Learmonth in his 1934 book "The Portland Bay Settlement"

"On Emu Creek, Richard LEWIS opened the Woolpack inn on July 1, 1843; it was on the creek bank below modern Digby. LEWIS is famous as the importer of the great thoroughbred jumper, King Alfred." Richard LEWIS who later bought "Rifle Downs" had the "Woolpack" Inn built at Emu Creek and it was comprised of 14 rooms, a kitchen, dairy and outhouses, a brick stable with 20 stalls, a permanent well in the front yard, three acres of land and a garden plus an attached store of four rooms and a 40 foot loft above. This inn was burnt down in 1887 and Mrs SOUTHERN who held the licence was jailed for two years for deliberately burning it down, but she was later found to be innocent.

1844 - "Glenorchy" Pastoral Run occupied by Alexander ROSE from Van Diemen's Land and he held it until 1855.

1844, Nov. - twin girls born to John HOLT & Sarah HUMPHRIES at Emu Creek (Digby) in 1844.

1845 - "Glenlivet" Pastoral Run occupied by Duncan McRAE.

1845 - "Rifle Downs" Pastoral Run occupied by James CRAWFORD who died in August 1848.

1845 - "Pleasant Hills" Pastoral Run settled.

1846 - Ottey's Store the first store built in Digby at the foot of the hill on the main road close to Emu Creek.

1846 - Nathaniel BURGESS (Blacksmith) and family said to have moved from Portland and set up a Blacksmith business at Digby. Nathaniel and his wife Mary BARRATT had arrived at Melbourne from London in 1841 on the "Fergusson".

1846, Oct 1st - Hunt Club Meeting at the "Woolpack Inn"

THE WANNON HUNT.--At a public meeting of the members of the Portland Hunt, held at the Woolpack Inn, Emu Creek, on Thursday, October 1st, 1846, G. Winter, Esq., having resigned the mastership of the hounds, F. Henty, Esq., was requested and consented to act as such. Peter Snodgrass, Arthur Pilleau, Charles Whyte, John Coldham, and G. Winter, Esquires, were appointed a committee to assist the master of the hounds in the management of the hunt for the ensuing year, with power to add to their number. The master of the hounds and committee were empowered to erect the necessary buildings on the station of F. Henty, Esq , with the surplus funds remaining in the treasurer's hands from the last year's subscription. A person fully competent to manage the hounds, both in field and kennel, is to be engaged as huntsman, at a rate not exceeding £100 per annum, to maintain himself and horse. A subscription of £5 a-year constitutes a member. For the future, the hunt is to be denominated the Wannon Hunt.
Ref : "The Geelong Advertiser and Squatters' Advocate" (Vic.) Tuesday, 5th January 1847.

1847 - Digby consisted of an Inn, a blacksmith and a cluster of huts along the creek supposedly for protection against the Aborigines. Water for drinking, etc was carried with the use of a wooden yoke placed across the shoulders to carry two buckets.

1848 - James Henty mentions in his diary of 2 Oct 1848 - "We started on the road to the Bay [Portland Bay], calling at Emu Creek [Digby] where there is a little village and a good Inn kept by Rd. LEWIS."

1848 - James HAMILTON recalled as a ten year old from Bringalbert Station north of Casterton taking a dray load of wool through Digby to Portland.

..... Next day we got to the Emu Creek, where Digby is situated, and camped there for the night. Digby at that time had a public house, store, blacksmith's shop, and a few huts. We had to ford the creek there too. The hotel was kept by Richard LEWIS, who prospered so well that he bought the Rifle Downs station. While on a visit to England, he bought the celbrated blood stallion, King Alfred, the sire of many a grand steeplechaser, and one of the best horses ever brought to Victoria. He also brought a very fine stamp of a draught stallion, "Agronomer". Both these horses stood at Rifle Downs for a number of years. From Digby we made the Smoky River next day.....

1848, Aug - James CRAWFORD, squatter of "Rifle Downs" died on or about 25 August 1848, aged 36y. He was from Comnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of James CRAWFORD, banker.

1849 - The first Church of England service held in the district was in 1849 at "Rifle Downs" then owned by Mr Richard LEWIS. It was conducted by Rev. Dr. F. T. Cusack Russell, who had just been appointed to the Wannon Valley as vicar, by Bishop PERRY, the first Bishop of Melbourne.

1852 - Digby was surveyed and gazetted a township by Mr Lindsay CLARKE, Government Surveyor.

1852, Sep- The following localities have been fixed upon as sites for new townships: Hotspur on the Crawford River; Digby, at the River Stokes, on the road from Portland to the River Wannon;... "The Argus"

1856 - A second Inn which was to become The Digby Hotel was built by William BUCKLE of "Rifle Ranges". It was a structure of some 13 rooms with a valuable spring at the front door, and a stock yard with a capacity of 600 head, used to hold travelling stock in safe keeping while the drovers and bullockies enjoyed the hospitality of the house at a price. This hotel was destroyed by fire in 1935 while owned by Mr WALSH with the licence held by Mr M. McDONALD. Mrs WALSH rebuilt the hotel on the present site and it was officially opened in 1936.

1856- Digby's first school, built on the site of the Church of England Sunday School, was a church school run by a Mr & Mrs MORRISON. It catered for the outlying districts and also took in a few borders. The school was well established in 1857.

1856, December 18th- School at Digby.-An examination of the children attending the public school in this township under the tuition of Mr. and Mrs. Morrison was held on the 18th ult. by the Rev. F. T. Cusack Russell in presence of several of the parents and members of committee, at which the pupils evinced such progress and aptitude in the various branches allotted them as to elicit much commendation. Select premiums in the way of books have since been awarded to the most meritorious nor was any one left without some token of encouragement to further diligence. This school is well situated, in a thriving locality, is about to be enlarged for the acommodation of boarders. The neighbouring settlers have for the most part by their contributions and personal exertions shown a lively interest in the welfare of this school.
"Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Monday, 26th January 1857.

1857 - Visit by James BONWICK on his Horseback ride through western Victoria in 1857.

DIGBY on the Emu Creek, or Stokes river of Mitchell, is ten miles north of Hotspur. This township is favoured with a monthly service, and a good Church of England School. There are a score of houses and two hotels. Many of the people are splitters in the adjoining Stringybark forest, and others are carriers of the shingles, palings, and post rails for many miles around the country to settlers. The soil about the place is hopelessly barren. There are no farms to relieve the landscape, no clearings in the forest. A vast amount of detritus covers the district, so that the rock is not seen. Further on, the country looks better from the character of its gentle undulations, especially when the dull and black Stringybark is succeeded by the more cheerful looking Gum, Cherry, &c., reminding one strongly of that charming suburb of Melbourne,- Boroondara.

1857, June 19th- DIGBY.-This thriving township is increasing in importance every week, we might say daily. A few years ago Emu Creek as it was then called, had only to boast of an inn, and one or two huts, now it bids fair to be one of the first-class of inland townships ; the late government sales will demonstrate the fact. The Rev. Mr. Russell spares no pains to aid the people's spiritual improvemnent-and the good that is done by the valued teaching of Mr. Morrison, in the Denominational School, is worthy of commendation. It is to be hoped that the good seed sown will be productive of a rich harvest. The land about the locality must not be overlooked, as it seems to us to be of the most productive kind ; and to show its superior productiveness, we were shown some turnip radishes, grown in Mr. Joyce's garden, three of which, were each 19 1/2 inches, and one 20 inches in circumference. To any one who may visit Digby, it may be as well to mention that his garden is well worthy of their attention.
"Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Friday, 19th June 1857.

1857, June 19th- DIGBY HOTEL.-We have it on the best authority that the public-house, the property of Mr. Buckle, called the "Digby Hotel," has been let for five years, at a yearly rental of £200, to Mr. White, late of the Limestone Ridge, Mount Gambier. It is also stated that Mr. White is a man of the most worthy character, and likely in every respect to be an acquisition to the township. We wish him success in his new undertaking.
"Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Friday, 19th June 1857.

1857, Jul 24th- Died - On the 24th inst., at Digby, deeply regretted, Mr. H. Townsend, Chemist, &c., aged 28 years.
"Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Friday, 31st July 1857.

1857, August 11th- Digby.-Mr. Joyce of the Woodford Inn [sic Woolpack], having disposed of the same to Mr. Taylor of your place, the latter is to take possession on the 1st September. It is worthy of notice that the Woolpack has been long a favourite house on the road, the situation commanding, and it is to be hoped that the new proprietor may find himself at home in his new undertaking.-Correspondent. August 11th 1857.
"Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Monday, 17th August 1857.

1857, Dec- Capture of Horse Stealers.- We are glad to state that the two individuŠis who absconded from Digby on Thursday last with two horses, saddles and bridles, belonging to residents upon the township, have, through the prompt and persevering exertions of Sergeant KEDDEL been apprehended near to Cavendish. If the example of this officer's energy were more frequently acted upon there would be fewer of these depredations to be complained of. We have since heard the offenders haave been committed by the Hamilton Bench to take their trial at Portland. "The Argus"

1858, Aug- H. INVERARITY, M.B., to be the registrar for births and deaths for the district of Digby, Vic; R. J. MERCER, resigned. "The Argus"

1859 - The first sitting of the Court of Petty Sessions held in Digby. The police station was believed to have been in Jim MABBITT's Store (Bert Guthridge's).

1859, May - Capt. Philip Edmund WADLEY at the "Woolpack Inn". A daughter born at Digby in June 1859.

1859, Aug. - Mary HALL, 25 year old housemaid at the "Digby Hotel" was murdered at the "Digby Hotel", she was born, Manchester, England and believed to be from Adelaide, South Australia. An inquest held at the "Digby Hotel" found that she was murdered by Alexander STEWARD a West Indian Cook, of the "Digby Hotel", aged 26y who committed suicide also at the "Digby Hotel" immediately after the murder. Those present who gave evidence were - John WHITE, hotelkeeper; Thomas BURGESS, splitter; Henry & Ann SMITH, hotel employees; Frank MARTIN, splitter; Constable CRENNAN, Digby Policeman, summoned to the scene & Dr Henry INVERARITY who conducted the post-mortems.;

1859 - in September, 1859 Joseph JOYCE applied for and was granted a publican's license for the "Woolpack Inn" with surities being Hugh GLANCY of Rifle Ranges and Donald McCALLUM of Digby.

1860 - Digby was served by a post office, with mails to and from Portland by coach twice weekly, a court of petty sessions, in a new wooden building, a police station, two hotels, a Chrch of England School and a number of other dwellings. Digby had two police constables to control the rapidly growing population. With bullockies travelling through, the court house was never short of business, much of which was only of a minor nature. e.g. one gentleman was charged with insulting behaviour in a public (the inn) and he was fined 10 shillings with one pound 17/6 costs.

1860, Apr- Mounted-constable Thomas McEVOY (Z 8), appointed for the police district of Portland, at Digby. "The Argus"

1860, Sep- James Henry QUIN (Clerk of Petty Sessions, Digby) to be also clerk of petty sessions at Branxholme, commencing duty on the 19th of September, 1860. "The Argus"

1861 - Rev. Dr. Cusack Russell laid the foundation stone for St John's Church of England in April of this year and by December the church was consecrated and opened for services.

1861 - Land sales in the Digby Courthouse netted the sum of 5000 pounds for the Crown

1861 - Court Perserverance No 3319, Ancient Order of Forresters (AOF) was formed in Digby as a benefit court, in which doctors were paid by the court and sick pay for a member was at the rate of one pound per week. Chemists charges were also covered and members received interment fees of 10 pounds on the death of a wife and 20 pounds on the death of a husband. The dispensation for this court was granted by executive council bearing the date 4 Oct 1861.

1861, Jun- John Coldham, Richard Lewis, Duncan McCallum, Digbye Johnson Mercer, ana Francis Thomas Cusack Russell, to be the trustees of the land set apart for the use of the Church of England at Digby. "The Argus"

1862 - ELDRIDGE & RICE were operating a steam saw mill at Digby.

1863, Nov- At Digby on Wednesday last, Mr. Perry, the manager of the Pericle Station [sic], on the Glenelg was summoned for having scabby sheep in his possession. The number laid in the information was nearly 6,000. Messrs. Fetherstonhaugh, Coldham, and F. Henty were on the bench. Before the case was gone into Mr. Cox, of the firm of Cox and Palmer, on behalf of the defendant, applied for a postponement of the case, on the grounds that Mr Ferguson, the owner of the station, and the party most interested in the present prosecution, residing in Melbourne, had been unable to attend, owing to the coach being full, and that he was a most material witness, he having paid money into the Treasury at Melbourne as soon as he heard that the sheep were scabby, for the purpose of taking out a licence. His presence, consequently, was absolutely necessary. The Bench finally consented to postpone tho case for a fortnight. "The Argus"

1864 - The Digby Common School No 191 opened with an enrolment of 46 pupils. By December the number had risen to 59 with most of the students aged between 6 and 10, but 8 of them were under 4. The teachers Mr & Mrs Eastwood were paid one shilling per pupil.

1865, Jan- Samuel HARRIS, of Digby, storekeeper is a new insolvent. Causes of insolvency - Bad debts, losses in wool speculations, and pressure of creditors. Liabilities, £351 4s. 4d. ; assets, £17 11s. : deficiency, £833 13s. 4d. "The Argus"

1865, May- Land opened for selection on 2 May 1865. Grassdale - Parishes of Grassdale and Digby, situated immediately east and north of the township of Digby 21 miles, south-westerly from Hamilton, watered by the River Stokes and its tributaries. "The Argus"

1865, Dec- The following gentlemen have been appointed members of the local committee of Digby Common School, No. 191 - Joseph TOWNSEND & Walter HYDE. "The Argus"

1866, Jan 1 - Adam Lindsay GORDON & wife made a purchase at the Digby Post Office & Store operated by Matthew TOWNSEND.

1867 - The first entry in the marriage register of St John's Church of England was for the wedding of William Harvey JACKSON and Jane CLIFFORD on 23 Sep 1867.

1867, Oct- An old resident of Digby, named Thomas Joyce, committed suicide on the 20th October, 1867 by hanging himself, while in a state of temporary insanity.

1867, Oct- PORTLAND SHIRE COUNCIL. Walook, Friday, 4th Octber, 1867. From Constable William Hole, police station, Digby, stating that he had warned splitters against cutting down trees on the Hotspur road, and promising if he found any in the act of cutting down the trees, he would bring the person or persons so offending before the Court.
Source : "The Portland Guardian" (Vic.) Monday, 7th October 1867.

1868 - Mr Thomas BURGESS and Mr Robert HAWORTH set up a saw mill near Digby.

1868 - Digby Mechanics Institute and Library had land reserved for its construction by an order in council dated 10 Aug 1868. It was built soon after and has been operating continually ever since.

1868, Oct- Thomas Hide, Charles Eastwood, and A. C. F. Lackmann to be the managers of the Digby town common. "The Argus"

1868, Dec - John PERRY, the younger, of Digby, late a publican, next a splitter, and now a wool winder is a new insolvent. Causes of insolvency - losses in business and by fire. Liabilities, £339 13s. ; assets, £7 ; deficiency, £332 13s. "The Argus"

1869 - The first sitting of the Supreme Court to be held outside Melbourne was held at the Digby Court in 1869.

1870 - Due to a shift in population the Digby Court House Building which had been built in 1860 was moved to Merino at a cost of 155 pounds.

1871 - Benn's saw mill opened.

1871 - Joseph POVEY selected 97 acres at Teakettle Creek on the Digby - Dartmoor Road

1871, Apr- The Hamilton Spectator states that "on Tuesday, when the hot wind was blowing, the township of Digby appeared in imminent danger from the bush fires burning around it. There was a fire in the neighbourhood of the pound, also one at Humphrey's Creek, and other fires closo to the township. Willing hands were soon at work, and even the school children assisted to stay the progress of the flames. A large quantity of fencing was destroyed, together with a considerable area of grass. The rain which fell in the night, fortunately averted all further danger, but on the following day, Digby was visited by a terrific whirlwind, which tested the stability of haystacks and the roofs of houses." "The Argus"

1873 - The Ancient Order of Foresters (AOF) Hall was built in 1873 at the cost of 244 pounds. It was the only public building of any size so most community activities were held in it. The "Band of Hope" used it as a meeting place at the monthly rental of 10 shillings. Dances were held there periodically and a free library was also operated.. Private citizens were able to rent it for various functions.

1874 - Digby, with a population of 350, was served by a post office, two hotels, four stores One of which was combined with the post office), an insurance agent, one school, a Forester's Lodge, a Band of Hope, a butcher, baker, blacksmith, wheelwright, carpenter (who was the undertaker), shoemaker, a combined butcher-baker, Mechanics Institute, and a town herdsman.

1874 - The Church of England Sunday School opened this year with 28 boys and 26 girls and Nathaniel R BURGESS as Superintendant and six teachers assisting. It closed in 1935 through lack of pupils and teachers.

1874, Aug 13 - First cremation in Victoria at Digby...

The first cremation funeral in Victoria took place at Digby on the 13th inst., the Shire toll gates having expired that morning. Mr. Prior was pall bearer, and delivered a funeral oration over the Digby gate. He said that he felt him self unhinged by the sad task, and sang, "Toll for the gate, and toll for the brave !" Mr. Southern, nearly choked with sobs, sang--
"One morn a Peri at the gate
Of Digby, stood disconsolate,
Because she had no money to pay,
And, could'nt get through with her horse and shay!"
Mr. Lackmann delivered a German oration over the smouldering pillars, and all hands sang the hymn
"Me flogen richts, me flogen links,
Debirge baum unberken.
Me flogen richts, und lefts und links,
Un dorfer tolls unbfechken."
Mr. Farley proposed that the memory of the gate be drank in solemn silence, and the mournful cortage retired to liquor down a bit.
Source : "The Border Watch" (Mount Gambier, SA) Wednesday, 19th August 1874.

1875 - The Digby Wesleyan Church was established this year on the triangular corner of the Portland and Dartmoor Roads.

1878 - The new brick Digby State School No 2047 was constructed in 1878 on the site of the present school, the numbers continued to grow to a maximum of about 100 pupils. The school residence was built in 1890.

1880 - The vicarage of St John's Church of England was built in the 1880's as a residence for Rev MOODY.

1888 - Digby South School No 2876 was opened with the teacher being Mrs HIGHLAND. Children walked up to 5 miles to and from school. Other teachers were Miss RIDDLE and Miss DRUMMOND and this school closed in 1898 through a lack of pupils.

1889 - The police station was shifted to Merino with Constable BROWN being the last policeman.

1891, Nov 18 - RUN OVER BY A TRAMCAR. A middle aged man named William Hyde was seriously injured on Monday night at North Melbourne. He was a resident of Digby, in the Western district, but during his visit to Melbourne he was staying at the Victoria Coffee Palace in Collins street. At the time he was crossing the line at its intersection with another line when the dummy of No 17 tram struck him, knocking him down. The gripman stopped the tram as quickly as possible, and a number of people who were near at the time ran to the rescue. The dummy had to be lifted before the unfortunate man could be extricated, when it was found that his leg was bleeding at the calf. The policeman on the beat at the time took him to Dr Crowley, who found the injuries to be a compound fracture of the bone of the leg, which was surgically operated on. "The Argus"

1892, Feb - "The Argus" Tuesday, 16th Feb 1892 - Adelaide, Monday - The police have seized 56 cattle and four horses at Mount Gambier, belonging to Mr. John STONY, of Digby, which it is alleged were smuggled into the colony from Victoria.

1893, Aug - "The Argus" Friday, 4th Aug 1893 - New Insolvents - Charles DONOHUE, of Digby, farmer. Filed at Hamilton.

1894, May - "The Argus" Tuesday, 8th May 1894 - A SAD ACCIDENT - MERINO, Monday.
A magisterial inquiry was held at Digby today touching the the death of John Henry HAWKINS, a lad of 15, who was discovered dead about a mile from Digby on Saturday afternoon. The evidence of Dr. PARK showed that the skull was fracturod and the neck broken, death having been instantaneous. The lad's horse was grazing close to tho spot, and showed marks of the rider having been thrown. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

1899, Sep 22 - A DRIVING ACCIDENT - Merino, Thursday. Last evening Mr. Marr, L.R.C.P., and Mr. Oakley were leaving Digby in a buggy, when the horse bolted down a steep hill leading from the township. A smash took place near the bridge, and both were thrown out of the vehicle. Mr. Oakley had his leg broken, besides sustaining other injuries, and the doctor was badly cut and shaken. Mr. Oakley was convoyed home and his fractured limb was set. "The Argus"

1908 - Digby Post Office & Store sold by Matthew TOWNSEND to John Patrick DWYER.

1911 - Digby Post Office & Store sold by John Patrick DWYER to Arthur BURGESS.

1917 - Digby World War 1 Avenue of Honour Tree planting ceremony.

1918, Jan 5 - Matthew TOWNSEND's funeral at St John's Church, Digby & burial in Digby cemetery.

1919, Feb 26 - Digby Show postponed due to Spanish Flu.

1935, Feb 14 - The old "Digby Hotel" in Buckinghan-street was destroyed by fire.

Digby Hotel Burnt. --- Awakened by the crackling of fire and smoke at 4.30 o'clock on Thursday morning; Mrs. M. A. McDonald, licensee of the Digby Hotel, discovered the building in flames. Mrs. McDonald had just sufficient time to escape with her children and retrieve a few clothes. The building was totally destroyed. A 16 roomed weatherboard structure built about the year 1859, it was one of the district's oldest landmarks. The cause of the outbreak is unknown. The fire appeared to have started near the back of the building, but the structure was well alight when Mrs. McDonald was awakened. Mr. McDonald, at the time, was away on a fishing expedition on the Glenelg.
"The Portland Guardian" (Vic.) Monday, 18th February 1935.

1935, 14 Feb - The new "Digby Hotel" on the Portland-Casterton-road was opened.

MERINO.--The new hotel at Digby has been opened. The previous wooden building was destroyed by fire some time ago.
"The Argus" (Melbourne, Vic.) Saturday, 14th November 1936.

1937, April 1 - Euphemia TOWNSEND, widow of Matthew TOWNSEND, funeral in Portland & burial in Digby cemetery.

1991, Jan 27 - Digby World War 1 Avenue of Honour restoration, during which new bronze name plaques were located under each of the 97 trees in the Avenue of Honour

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