Matthew Widdop's diary and notebook

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Widdop's notebook unopened.jpg

In late 1862 Matthew Widdop kept a diary and notebook[1] that records, among other things, efforts made by himself and William Beauclerc Otway to extract silver and gold from the ores at St Arnaud, Victoria. Otway was the manager of the Alpha Silver Mining Company, one of the first companies to attempt silver mining at St Arnaud.[2]


Contents of the diary

The diary consists of a leather-bound notepad with a brass clasp. In it there is a diary in which a daily account of events is kept, and some notes about chemistry, metallurgy, gardening, arithmetic sums, and a list of what appears to be notes about Otway. The notes commence from what appears to be the front of the notepad, but the diary, commencing from the back, is much more extensive.

The diary

The diary commences on 15 September 1862 with Widdop's journey from Melbourne to Ballarat, where he meets up with Otway. Together they travel to St Arnaud, a trip that involves 18 hours of coach travel over two days.

They immediately commence collecting specimens together with investigating the mines and processing equipment and laboratories already set up at St Arnaud by others, including Chapman (probably George Chapman, Masters, C.F. Lewis, Higgins, G. Dobbs, Clow, Wright, G. Clarke, Chave, Youngson (probably George Youngsen), and Macredie. As the weeks and months progress, there appears to be a great deal of cooperation between the various parties, including exchanging of rock specimens and examining others' equipment, and Widdop spends much time processing and experimenting with ore from other people's mines.

There is no account of the construction of the laboratory, suggesting Otway had already set up at least some of their facilities some time before.[Notes 1] However, Otway does not seem to have previously obtained a mining lease. On 20 September Widdop records:

Doctor Otway found a suitable piece of ground for mining silver to the north westward of the township, & therefore applied to Mr Raven the mining surveyor, for a lease of 200 acres...

Ten days later Raven surveys five leases and an agreement is signed "making over the claim on the Argentine reef to A. H. Louis on behalf of the others if the sum of £100 be paid to C.F. Lewis, G. Clarke & G. Dobbs..."

They begin collecting specimens and experimenting three days after arriving, but the real business of attempting to extract the precious metals does not start until early October. Very soon afterwards Widdop experiences what could be acute mercury poisoning. Otway experiences a similar turn from 23 to 27 October, and on 29 October Otway's wife Rebecca arrives with their four-year-old son Willie.

Their efforts do not appear to have borne much fruit. Widdop reports amalgamating the processed ore several times without reporting yields. After one amalgamation in early October he reports extracting "some metal" which however still contained residual mercury. Meanwhile, Otway seems to be having better luck (or at least claiming to), finding "the manganese contains silver" and "testing some stones from the reef which yields 13 oz of gold and silver to the ton." Otway spends November 13 "at Chapman's machine" with mixed results – two of the experiments were successful and two yielded only iron – and the next day he reports getting "a very nice globule of nearly pure gold weighing about ¾ dwt." Finally on 19 November, he reports a good yield – 16 ounces to the ton – from stone collected "from the trench on Louis' Reef". However, after spending the day working with mercury, he reports "Doctor was unwell this evening & I took pill."

The next day Otway travels to Melbourne "with all the other gentlemen", and Widdop does no ore processing from that point until the diary ends on 2 December.

When not processing or experimenting, Widdop spends his time rowing and yabbying on George Chapman's dam, going for long walks, conversing with Otway, spending time with Otway's wife and son, and attending church on Sundays. With regard to the Prince of Wales birthday celebrations, Widdop records:

Monday Novem. 10th
This is a public holiday; all the shops, stores & hotels being closed. There have been football matches & races in which Charley Lewis won 2 buckets of ale from Mr Jones, who was carried on men’s shoulders to the hotel where he was made to sing a song "Cheer boys cheer". About 30 diggers then sang with great spirit "Rule Britannia", "God save the Queen". There was a quadrille party in the long room this evening & some very nice singing. It has on the whole been a national holiday. I went to see a little bird near Sebastopol this morning, & calcined stones from the reef at Mr Chapman’s.
Tuesday Novem. 11th
The dancing finished at 5 oclock this morning with "God save the Queen".

The last entry in the diary records:

Thursday Decem 4th
Mr Youngson has got a crucible which will smelt 40lbs of brass, from Macredie. I have crushed & treated 3 ozs of stone from Walker’s reef & got a nice globule of gold.
Very disappointed in Dr not coming. Took 2 pills.

The notes

1862-09-15 Widdop's diary and notebook inside front cover.jpg

The notes in the diary commence from what appears to be the front of the diary. The notes include:

  • His name, written as "Matthew Widdop". The "o" in his surname is very clear – see Matthew Widdop regarding evidence he may also have spelt his name "Widdup".
  • Chemistry notes such as specific gravities for several precious and common metals, and guidance on turning materials into liquids "either by fire (dry process) or solvents (wet process)".
  • Lists of clothing, which appear from the dates to be clothing sent to him from home.
  • Notes on growing vegetables.
  • On the second opening (i.e., not the first page):
Monday Sep. 15.
Left Melbourne by the 11.30 train to Ballaarat.
This could be a draft of his first diary entry or a false start indicating he may not have initially planned to put his diary entries in the back of the notepad.
  • A list of what appear to be quotes and observations:
"You scamps, whelps
"No I do not know the man Sharkey."
Asked Mr Ch. for pistol
I and he had witnessed dreadful orgie in the hotel.
Threw a slip of paper on which he had written near dam.

The reference to "Mr Ch." and the pistol suggests the list may be about Otway. Otway appears from some newspaper accounts to have spoken in a typically American manner[Notes 2], and "scamps, whelps" may be an example of how Otway spoke.

Locating the diary

Possibly the only existing reference to Widdop's diary is made in Keith Bowden's Goldrush doctors at Ballaarat (1977):

In 1862, [Otway] rode to Ballaarat from Geelong and travelled with his wife and child on a tour of inspection through Dunolly, Bealiba and St. Arnaud in one of Cobb's coaches. Inspected sites for leases, and carried out assays of gold and silver bearing quartz, and inspected Chilean mills. Diary of the tour kept by Dr Widdock.[3]

This appears to be the only account of the diary prior to this wiki project. While Bowden's account contains much that is apocryphal, including Widdop's name, there is enough correct detail to suggest Bowden had seen the diary or at least some account of it. The research notes of an Otway family history researcher[4] refer to a letter from Keith Bowden dated 14 August 1982, quoting him as saying:

There was a sale of books in Melbourne a few years ago. I think it was conducted at the Age building by Christopher Prahan. They sold a diary written by Dr. Widdock... The diary, a small one sold for about $60 or more.

However, because Bowden got Widdop's name wrong, Otway family researchers were unable to locate the diary.[5] On 14 March 2015, Ballarat and District Industrial Heritage Project contributor Neil Huybregts finally located the diary in the manuscript collection at the State Library of Victoria:

"The only reference to the diary referred to the diarist as Dr Widdock and since 1977 everyone's been looking for a diary by that name. I was getting nowhere myself and so I Googled 'variations of the name Widdock'. Up popped 'Widdop'."[6]

Neil searched for "Widdop", and found the diary in the manuscript collection at the State Library of Victoria.[7] The diary had been purchased by the State Library of Victoria from the Melbourne office of Christie, Manson & Woods (now Christie’s) on 12 July 1977.[8]

In June 2015 the State Library digitised the diary[1]. Due to copyright reasons, the diary cannot be published, but a transcript is available for research purposes by contacting Neil Huybregts at

See also


  1. According to Birrell (see reference above) Otway commenced operations at St Arnaud in 1861, however newspaper reports show he is in NSW for much of 1861 and early 1862.
  2. His "sanquine" forecasts regarding gold in Tasmania are described by one newspaper as "Yankee Doodleisms" and there is one account of a verbal joust between him and a Dr Homan, where he calls Homan a "puppy".


  1. 1.0 1.1 Widdop, Matthew (1862). Notebook and diary.[1]
  2. Birrell, Ralph Winter (2008). A New Bendigo – The story of the Gold & Silver Mines of St. Arnaud. R.W. Birrell, Strathfieldsaye, Victoria, Australia
  3. Bowden, Keith MacRae (1977). Goldrush doctors at Ballaarat. K. M. Bowden, Mulgrave, Victoria
  4. Towers, Lynne (undated). What way went Otway. Unpublished.
  5. Barbara Yawney, personal communication.
  6. Duo's golden discovery. (2015, April 4). The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1869 - 1875; 1914 - )
  7. Neil Huybregts, personal communication.
  8. Katie Flack, Collections Coordinator, State Library of Victoria, personal communication, 8 September 2015

Further Reading

External links

--Neil Huybregts 16:38, 2 September 2015 (AEST)

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