MYSTERY
OF A
RUINED
MANSION

By E. M. WEBB, who is touring the country writing special articles for The Herald.

Wandering along the Bendigo-Raywood Road I came to a road sign marked “Sebastian”. It indicated a right angle turn across a railway line and up a slight slope. Something said: “Go and have a look”, and in that way I came to Sebastian and a ruin.
Sebastian itself is a small hamlet which in the gold days was much larger. It presented insufficient to induce a stop there but what did catch my eye and arouse my curiosity were two very tall brick chimneys to the left of the town.
“Queer place for a factory” I thought, but they had nothing to do with a factory. They were chimneys erected at a mine. Brick chimneys such as one sees in the industrial areas of Melbourne. After the chimneys an old poppet-head came into view and then acres and acres of dumps.
* * * * *


I NEVER saw a mine before with such heaps as these. It looked as if the miners must have gone down thousands of feet and been hard put to dispose of everything that came out of the huge hole.
On the other side of Sebastian the road turned sharp left and went past the old mine. I took it and was just thinking about walking over to the heaps and having a look when my eye caught an ornamental brick wall on the right. It was a long low wall that occasionally curved up to a height and then curved down again.
It was in a bad state of repair, but it was a very long wall enclosing some acres of ground. As I progressed I saw within the ground enclosed by the wall a handsome brick house. This too appeared to be in a state of disrepair. Here was a mystery worth investigating.
I drove along to the limit of the wall and discovered another brick house within the enclosure but this one was obviously occupied. Some very handsome iron gates led into the enclosure. Several ornamental trees struggled for existence outside the first house and had evidently once been part of a fine garden but the garden had long been neglected.
Obviously some wealthy person had once built them as homes and given them their long brick wall
* * * * *


A MAN and a boy were cleaning out water pipes outside the second and inhabited house so I parked the car and went across to find out the story of the ruined mansion. Mansion perhaps is something of an exaggeration but it had without doubt been a very fine home.
I judged that the houses had had something to do with the mine and so it proved. The mine was the Frederick the Great opened up originally many years ago by Robert Charlton. It was a great mine in its day. About one million pounds worth of gold was taken out of it. Some of the million was put into the brick wall and houses where the mine executives lived in what must have been great luxury in those parts and times.
At the back of the houses were huge stable buildings part of which had fallen down. These too were of brick.
They must have thought that the Frederick the Great would go on producing gold forever. Walls houses and the brick chimneys at the mine had been built to last and they did outlast the gold for the fires have been drawn from beneath the chimneys and the Frederick the Great is great no longer.
* * * * *

Robert Charlton

I TALKED for some time with Mr J. Charlton, a grandson of the original owner of the mine and got from him some of the love of the field. Sebastian is different from Bendigo, where the reefs go down in hard slate. On Sebastian the reefs ran through free country more difficult to deal with and that probably accounts for the huge dumps about the Frederick the Great, which after all, only went down to 800 feet.
I went over to look at the old home and stood on the threshold in some trepidation, not fearing any ghosts of the past, but feeling that there was something sacred about the old place that ought not to be disturbed. This once grand home seemed to say “why bother about me? You should have seen me in my best days when people laughed and sang within my walls and children played about the garden. Then I was talked about, I had prestige. Now I am nothing but a ruin”
Some of the boards of the verandah had rotted. In the windows shreds of venetian blinds still hung. I pushed open the front door timidly because I felt I was trespassing.
Inside the floors were rotting. A passage ran down the middle to a flagged enclosure at the rear. Rooms opened on to the passage from either side. They were large rooms with high ceilings. Wallpaper had come away from the walls in places. Ceiling decorations and parts of the ceilings themselves had dropped away. But the white marble mantel pieces stood firm and beautiful.
* * * * *

THERE were many evidences that swagmen had camped there. A pair of old trousers had been abandoned in one of the back rooms. A few empty bottles were strewn about the floors. There was a cellar deep down below the level of the floors but I did not prospect it.
In one of the back rooms someone – a passing swagman probably, had written something on the wall. Australians have a great penchant for writing on walls or the pillars of bridges or for scratching their names on rocks. I hesitated to read what was written for much of the wall-writing one sees is unpleasant and there was something good and sweet about this old home in spite of its decay. It had been a lovely old place and even in its ruin was no harbour for any but good things.
But when I came to read what was written a great feeling of gladness came over me. The writer had felt about the old place as I felt. In a poor hand and with execrabic spelling he had written the first verse of Shelly’s “Ode to a Skylark”

Hail to thee blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never went.
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

* * * * *

A QUEER thing for a passing swagman to write on the wall of the old home and yet not so queer. Some of the beauty the old place once possessed must have touched the writers imagination and this verse was the best way in which he could pay it tribute.
I went away from the old home saying the lines over again to myself for of all the things written in that beautiful language we call English, these are among the most beautiful.
* * * * *

 


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