Sawmiller James Wheeler and family at Mount Wilson, 1887. SOURCE: State Library of Victoria

The splitter’s daughter

The splitter's daughter

Annie Biggs, a splitter’s daughter, lived here in a bark and slab hut in 1865. In her eighties, she told her granddaughter about growing up in the ‘Wombat’: “Our little company rambled about the Ballan Road and when I was seven we moved to a hut on the banks of the Lerderderg River at Mount Wilson. The hut had a paling side and a bark roof, the floor was of beaten down earth covered in kangaroo skins. The men shot roos for meat and mummy kept goats. Our diet mainly consisted of eggs, goat’s milk and Senna tea, boy how much of that stuff I took!”

The shingles were carted from here by bullock dray towards the Ballarat market. The first pub on the way was Wisemans in Spargo Creek, which was then a low-slung building with a shingle roof. Wiseman would take the shingles and would allow the men to have “a good spree” and provide food for their families.

Annie’s mother was Ellen Fitzgerald, born in Dungarven, Waterford County in 1831. Ellen was one of the more than 4,000 Irish Famine orphans shipped to the colony to unburden overloaded workhouses. Most became domestic servants for newly wealthy Victorians, but many soon married; at the start of the gold rush there were two men for every woman in Victoria. Ellen arrived in Port Melbourne in 1850 when she was 18yo. Henry, Annie’s father, from Somerset, was also eighteen when he arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1845, transported for stealing a shovel. Ellen and Henry married in Geelong in 1852, but by April 1864 Henry was dead, stabbed under the arm in the Forest Hotel in Bullarook. Henry left behind two daughters, Martha and Annie, and an unborn son. Ellen remarried two years later in 1866 with Johan Christiansen of Larvik. She died in Healesville in 1897.

Around 1867 when the sawmills started to cut shingles, Annie left the Mount “with its creeks, birds and ferns.” She married Charles Betteridge in 1875 (aged 17) and they had nine children. She died aged 88 in her son’s farmhouse at Springbank after a long and happy life. She always remembered “the tall green trees, bright warm suns and cold hard snows ” at the foot of the Mount. “I keep a corner in my heart for it that no other place can fill.”