If this lamp could talk

IMG_6716 (2)The lamp glowed into the dark olive Australian bush, the night grew increasingly unkind and damp as winter drew near, and the tired horse’s head hung lower and lower. Old Barclay responded to the sound of fatigued hoofs halting before his wooden shingles; he put the mare comfortably up for the night. His wife made a room snug with new blankets. She silently extinguished the lamp, as the rider was safely ensconced for the night.

The guest was Annie Dawbin, a pioneer and diarist. On this night in late May 1860, she wrote about Old Barclay and his wife, her late arrival at the Greenvale Inn in the barely settled bush of Victoria’s western district, and the light of the lamp.

A year and a half later, it was November 1861 and summer was approaching, the evenings were warm and never ending as three young men planned, talked and walked. Aged in their 20s, arms were strong and fit, faces determined. The 100 miles they’d strode from the Ararat goldfields hadn’t shortened their step, because their pockets were full, and they knew what they were after. Land.

Mrs Barclay left the lamp in the kitchen as she served their meals at the bar. She was disinclined to share the light. Davey Suttie thought he saw a piece of meat move across his plate. He leaned closer to his dark meal. It was then that he realised why the lamp remained far away and still – the meat on their plates was full of maggots about an inch long. Or so the men said, in tall tales passed down for the next 150 years. If it was true, it didn’t do young Suttie any harm, because he lived to be 91.

The 1860s oil lamp burner seen here is the only lamp recovered from the site of the Greenvale Inn, burnt down and lost for almost a century. It may be this lamp that caused the disastrous fire. Look closely, and you might still see the reflections of Mrs Barclay, Mrs Dawbin, and even young Mr Suttie at the bar, peering into his dinner.

t14JohnBarclay - Annie Maria Dawbin diaries 12 Sep 1834 - 3 May 1869 State Library NSW - Photo copyright KLW NFC 2017 ARR
Dawbin diaries held by the State Library of NSW describing her visit to Barclay’s Inn

Photo credits:
19th century oil lamp discovered at the Greenvale Inn site – my own
Dawbin diaries describing her visit to Barclay’s Inn – State Library of NSW, photo copyright KLW NFC 2017 ARR



  1. Thanks Susie. It’s a great 160-year-old artefact from a disastrous fire that cleaned up beautifully, and definitely has many interesting stories to tell from a real frontier past …


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