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Swannell Part 3 – This stoic pioneer gets on with it

John Swannell Part 3 – This stoic pioneer gets on with it...

In the latter months of 1868, John Swannell displayed remarkable determination and endurance. He took first prize at the Ballarat National Show in October for the Best Pair of Two-Tooth Leicester Ewes (not sure if this was for two ewes or a set of teeth!). The following month, he was again buying up more township property in Myrniong – this time it was a block of land from Mr Smith for £149. Without delay, John constructed a bluestone building intended for use as the police station & lock-up, of which he was the contractor to supply its food and supplies. These historic buildings still stand today, serving as a private residence.

In late December 1868, near Pyke’s Flat, John was thrown from his horse, suffering painful injuries. His horse was spooked when he opened a pocketbook (the original kind, not the electronic version of today), worsening the situation. Attempting to regain control, John got dragged until his back hit a log, breaking the stirrup-leather. He lay immobile until Mr. Glenny, a nearby resident, took him home. Dr. Bone treated him for severe pain, resembling broken ribs, but no other injuries were found after a few days. John narrowly escaped a nasty death, and his friends are relieved by his quick recovery.

Early in 1869, Swannell was again at logger-heads with the local Shire Council. On this occasion it was in relation to their request for him to build a road along the bank of the creek, otherwise they (the Council) would prevent him access to his farm! While any decision at the Council meeting was postponed with no resolution being passed, the Council did agree that subsequent action should be taken to protect John Swannell.

The Myrniong Races in May again called for John to be granted a Temporary Licence for a booth to quench the thirsty workers and visitors alike.

In July, John opened a freestone quarry on a paddock he recently purchased, having leased it previously. He planned to send stone samples for testing in Melbourne, hoping for a favorable outcome to sell the stone profitably, despite the cost of cartage being a challenge. The freestone, nearly white with a consistent grain, was exceptionally hard and had a uniform color. It had been used in the construction of the police quarters and lock-up, as well as the Mechanics’ Institute in Myrniong, alongside bluestone, with high praise from the stonemasons. A tombstone made from this freestone was impressive, meeting expectations. Notably, the quarry had sold grindstones to customers who were unaware they were not imported ones, showcasing the quality of the local product. These favourable reports resulted in John’s determination to employ men to open up the quartz reef and to invest capital in the stone. Everyone wished him good fortune “for no man in the district better deserves a slice of luck”.

During his lecture at the opening of the Myrniong Mechanics’ Institute in November 1869, Dr Bleasdale spoke very highly of the stone in the region. In particular the good Dr singled out John Swannell’s quarry, contrasting it to the lesser quality Darley stone being used in Melbourne’s Treasury Building. He did not believe that any extended exposure to the weather would lessen its durability.

All the while, changes of Licensees sees John taking over the Commercial Hotel in Ballan from William Gosling (possibly his relative), while transferring his Myrniong Hotel license to Mary Roberts. Another daughter, Harriett Tilling Swannell, is born into the family, however she passed away at 3 years of age.

During 1870, a stranger stayed for a few days at Swannell’s Commercial Hotel in Ballan. Before leaving he gave Mr. Brown at the Courthouse Hotel, Bacchus Marsh, a cheque for £l, which turned out to be a forgery. The police soon tracked him down near Kyneton and remanded him for a week. Later that year John was charged with horse-stealing from a Mr. Maurice Nash. He was arrested at the Laurel Hotel, Flemington, and eventually received bail of £20 and surety of £20, to appear before a Magistrate on 21 December 1870. On the day of the trial, the courthouse was crowded, a display of either an innate interest in the case or a slow Wednesday in the area. As a result of all evidence tried, the charge amounted to nothing more than an irregular horse dealing with the Bench suggesting that Mr Nash, the owner of Violet and Captain (the horses) should be indicted for perjury, while Mr Swannell is discharge without the slightest stain upon his character. John Swannell left court with his reputation in tact and two additional horses for his stables.

Next week: the ever-expanding family of Swannells takes them to new adventures.


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