Beechworth is known in Australian history for two particularly infamous personalities. The first is Robert O’Hara Burke, one half of Burke and Wills.
For those unfamiliar with the Burke and Wills story, my summary is this: in the 1860s, the Colonies of Victoria and South Australia competed on who could cross the continent from south to north first.
While John McDouall Stuart crossed successfully from Adelaide to Darwin (now the route of the Ghan), Burke and Wills had a more shambolic approach from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpenteria and back to Cooper Creek where they met their end. I’ve been close to where Burke and Wills passed in the Gulf, and I can say that it’s a very long way from Beechworth.
Burke himself was an Irishman who spent time as the police superintendent at Beechworth before managing to somehow snag the plum role of expedition leader despite having no prior experience.
The old Beechworth library has a few of his personal possessions, including his pistol.
On the other side of town is Beechworth Court and Gaol, where famous bushrangers were imprisoned, including Ned Kelly and his mentor Harry Power.
Australians have a bit of a love affair with Ned and his story, and since North-East Victoria was his home, there are lots of Kelly associated locations, which we’ll gradually explore. Across the road in the old bank vault, there is a small museum with some very interesting artefacts:
A wanted sign – a lot of money in those days.
The infamous suits of armour worn by Kelly’s gang in their shootouts.
And chillingly, a cast of Ned’s death mask taken after he was executed in Melbourne.