Stock agents Benjamin Hepburn and William Leonard operated large sale-yards, slaughter yards and bone mills on the Creswick Road, Ballarat from around 1860. The business was originally established by Hepburn in 1856. The sale and slaughter yards were a major enterprise, with a large volume of sheep sheep being slaughtered - even more than their counterparts in Melbourne.
- BEFORE GOLD SENT MEN MAD - Captain John Hepburn, of Smeaton Hill, Blazed the Trail of the Pioneer by MARY E. WEBSTER
- WE have celebrated the achievements of the pioneers who came by sea to Portland and through the Heads to Port Phillip. Now comes the turn of those who drove their flocks and herds through the dense bush and over hills and streams along the way traced by Hume and Hovell.
- One of the earliest among these overlanders was Captain John Hepburn, who had followed the sea from the age of 13 years, and whose ship, the Alice, was well known in Australian waters. It was from John Gardiner, who had made a passage with him from Van Diemcn's Land, that the suggestion came to try life as a settler at Port Phillip.
- It may seem a matter for regret that the daily entries made by Captain Hepburn, of Smeaton Hill, in a certain old leather-backed ledger, affectionately preserved by his granddaughters, should not date from that 15th day of April, 1838, when he took up the country on a spur of the Dividing Range, the beauty of which had charmed him on his first visit with Gardiner in 1836.
- Captain Hepburn had Joined forces with the Coghill brothers, three of whom settled on Glendonald and Glendaruel, in the Immediate neighbourhood of Smeaton. According to the diary, there was frequent and friendly intercourse between the two families. Situated as Smeaton Hill is, in the heart of the gold country, It must however be conceded that the years 1846-51, covered by the diary, are of particular interest.
- THE pastoral life, depicted from day to day in the plainest terms, was about to be interrupted, and Captain Hepburn appears as a typical and impressive figure, dismayed at the inrush of gold seekers into his lately won pastures.
- "The captain's domicile," says "The Argus" of 1851, "has the appearance of an English gentleman's park." Then follows the significant announcement: "A Government township is to be immediately surveyed and sold close to the house."
- This house had replaced the primitive hut of the 'thirties, and the diary traces every stage of its construction, which lasted over two years. It still stands, and is occupied to-day by a prosperous dairy farmer.
- "Brought John Gill from Melbourne," one entry runs. John Gill was the architect of the Baptist church in Collins street, and he designed two buildings in 1848 in Bourke street for Mr. A. F. Mollison. Another entry tells us that the name of the builder was Lake.
- A few more quotations may be permitted:"All hands digging at the foundations... Two sawyers to saw timber for the house... Self in search of a quarry for stone... A heavy fall of snow... Builders and trenchers all idle... Two men to prepare yards for brick making... Teams drawing wood to burn bricks... Bennett burning his first bricks... Returned from town with carpenter to put up roof... A dray arrived with the hearth stones from Geelong ... all safe . . . Harry went to the forest for rafters..." And at last he is able to write on 19th October, 1850: - "Plasterers finished their work this day."
- CAPTAIN HEPBURN and his wife were married in London in 1830. Of their four sons and six daughters all but two were born at Smeaton Hill. During the building of the new house it is recorded in the diary that the Rev. Mr. Chyne came from Burn Bank (Lexton) and "baptised Jane and Annie, also the joiner's child." Names of other visiting ministers of religion recur, among them that of the Rev. Thomas Hastie, so long and so prominently associated with the Ballarat district.
- Benjamin Hepburn was John's half brother and many years his junior. He spent some time at Smeaton Hill to gain the experience which enabled him to set up a stock and station agency in Ballarat. His doings' are recorded in the diary: now mustering cattle with Captain McLachlan, their neighbour at Glengower, at another time visiting the pound at Macedon to recover strayed beasts.
- Benjamin Hepburn's wife [Charlotte Ellen (née Bassano)] provided one of those links, with the past which some delight in tracing. She was born in Brussels during the Waterloo campaign, her father being an officer In Wellington's forces.
- One of the best-known features at Smeaton Hill was the water-mill on Birch's Creek, erected by Captain Hepburn about 1841. Hither came drays with grain from neighbouring stations; from Captain Langdon at Bullarook, from Mr. Hunter at Tarringower, from Mr. D. C. Simson at Charlotte Plains. In 1848 there was a dry season, and in July the mill temporarily stopped working.
- From the diary a clear picture emerges of the early times before the days of fencing, surveying, and of well defined boundaries. The run consisted of several stations, each with its hut, its shepherd, and flock. At night the sheep were folded inside hurdles, and there were watch-boxes for the men. The supply of reliable shepherds was very inadequate, and the diary abounds with expressions of anxiety on that subject.
- Of free labourers, It is noted that 20 absconded during the two and a half years beginning at the close of 1840. Men deported on the Pentonville system are mentioned as well as old-time convict servants. Delinquents had to appear before the bench of magistrates at Burn Bank (Lexton).
- Many sheep were lost owing to "rushes" by native dogs, to straylng, theft, smothering during a panic, to storms, fires, and floods. The names of the different out-stations have a pleasantly familiar ring in Australian ears: The Plain, the Tea-tree, the Lagoon, the Springs, &c. Koorootyngh, the native name for the locality, was retained for part of the run, Smeaton being a Scottish name with family associations.
- The nearest post-office was at Jim Crow, now Daylesford. This peculiar name was bestowed not only on the township, but also on a creek, and on a local mountain range; Its origin was a popular ditty of the period, introduced into London in 1830 by a negro singer known as Adelphi Rice. It is said to have created an absolute furore, and was the first of a flood of negro songs.
- Another theatrical memory is stirred by the mention in the diary of a traveller calling himself "The Wizard of the South," who must have delighted the unsophisticated station hands with his tricks of ventriloquism. By 1855 this man, Jacobs, had developed into "The Wizard of Wizards," and was playing to crowded audiences at the Royal Montezuma Theatre in Ballarat.
- Captain Hepburn's diary comes to a close in the early years of the gold era. After the finds at Creswick's Creek on Clunes Station, in July, 1851, at Buninyong in August, and at Ballarat and Mt. Alexander in September, Smeaton seemed to be at the very heart of a golden circle, and gold was found in lesser quantities on Smeaton Hill ground. There is a distinct note of regret and bewilderment in the diary.
- Short of hands and no likelihood of getting any more.
- Another entry follows: "Many thousands of men passing during this week to the gold diggings at Mt. Alexander . . . counted ... 59 carts and 1.149 men between Mr. Campbell's station and this ... 17 miles . . ."
- The new era had begun
- Captain Hepburn died on August 7, 1859, and was buried at Smeaton. 
- ↑ The Argus, 31 December 1938.
- ↑ Research by R. Littlewood, accessed via email on 10 November 2015.
- ↑ Thorpe, M.W. & Akers, Mary, An Illustrated History of Buninyong, Buninyong & District Historical Society, 1982.
- ↑ The Argus, 31 December 1938.