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1861 Kyneton Navvies Revolt

High St Circa 1860 with former Junction Hotel ( Best & Less )*

On the first Saturday in August in 1861 more than 500 workers (navvies) on the
construction of the railway line from Melbourne to Bendigo, gathered in Kyneton to protest proposals to reduce their wages from 7 or 8s a day to 5s a day.

The 150th anniversary of their revolt will be celebrated with a re-enactment in Kyneton on the first Saturday of August 2011 – August 6.

Back in 1861, the navvies or turnouts, gathered near the river and the location of the current station – they were protesting not only about the proposed reduction in wages but also about the tardiness of sub-sub contractors to pay them at all.

Near the banks of the river they overturned wagons, seriously injured a sub-contractor Mr Duxbury and were read the riot act.

They then marched up what is now Mollison St reportedly carrying sticks and banners inscribed “The Old Pay”, “Union is Strength” and “No Surrender” etc.

The navvies stopped at the Albion Hotel, then in its first year, to pull down a Union Jack and carry it at the front of the march, which ended at the community meeting place in front of the Junction Hotel then located on the northern side of the current Mechanics Reserve.
There the navvies were addressed by their leaders and later dispersed with no serious damage done in the township.

The Argus reported that “Kyneton ….was excessively alarmed” at the prospect of a large “mob” which included men from many other areas descending on the town. Local police were supplemented by Melbourne Police headed by the chief commissioner in person and they in turn were supported by the Local Mounted Rifles. There were 100 police and 60 Mounted Rifles on hand ready for the navvies as there had been grave fears that the banks and bakeries were in danger. The fears proved groundless.

Local Police Magistrate William Lavender played a key role in diffusing the revolt.

The Re-enactment will commence near the Mollison St Bridge at 2pm on Saturday August 6 and conclude in the Mechanics Reserve around 3.30pm.

Organisers, the Kyneton Daffodil and Arts Festival, the Kyneton Historical Society and Albion Hotel owners Tony and Marisa Leahy encourage those who attend the re-enactment to wear the clothing of the period and to participate in the March to the Mechanics Reserve.

A Bush Dance will be held at the Albion Hotel that evening to continue the celebration of the Navvies Revolt, invest the Royals for the September Kyneton Daffodil and Arts Festival and celebrate the 150th Anniversary of The Albion itself.

Piper Street mid 1850's looking towards the bridge over the Campaspe *


* Images courtesy Kyneton Historical Society