Historical Towns Directory

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 Benalla

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Benalla, around 190 km north-east of Melbourne, came into being as a pastoral centre. The first white men to visit the district and note its farming potential were William Hovell and Hamilton Hume in 1824. In 1836 Thomas Mitchell and his party camped in the area during their venture through 'Australia Felix'. The Broken River on which Benalla sits was so named by Grantville Stapylton in 1838. It had previous been dubbed the 'Swampy River' by Hume and Hovell.

The Benalla Town Hall was constructed as the Municipal Chambers and Shire Hall in 1883 (courtesy Benalla & District Historical Society Inc.)

Pastoralists soon began to set up runs along the Broken River. In 1838 while William and George Faithful were searching for suitable land to establish their runs eight of their stockmen were killed by local Aborigines just south of the river crossing in an event known as the Faithful Massacre. This led to the establishment of a Police Post at the Broken River Crossing Place, near the site of the Mechanics Institute Hall (1869), now the Museum and Visitor Information Centre.

An appraisal for a potential townsite around the police post was carried out in 1939. Slab buildings including the Black Swan Inn (1840) and a courthouse (1847) were constructed. In 1848 superintendent Charles La Trobe named the site 'Benalla', believed to be derived from 'Bhrenawlla', the name of the local Aboriginal tribe and their hunting ground along the Broken River.

The old Benalla Courthouse was the scene of several court appearances of Ned Kelly (courtesy Benalla & District Historical Society Inc.)

A bridge had been built across Broken River in 1847 and by 1850 there was development on both sides of the river, including the Benalla National School and a new Black Swan Inn. A telegraph station was opened in 1857, followed in 1858 by buildings including a brewery and wooden flour mill. The flour mill was subsequently updated to a stone structure in 1883-84.

Benalla grew as a service centre for travellers to the goldfields and also as a result of agricultural development from the 1850s. This growth was further boosted with the arrival of the railway in 1873. Benalla was officially made a town in 1861 and was the administration centre of a vast shire declared in 1869.

Moira House (1878) was constructed by businessman and politician, Mr George Sharpe (courtesy Benalla & District Historical Society Inc.)

A brick courthouse was added in 1864 – Ned Kelly made his first appearance here in 1869 when he was just 14, but was acquitted. He returned in 1877 on minor charges. An altercation with police on the way to court resulted in the additional charges for which Ned was fined. His last trip to Benalla occurred in 1880 when he was held at the Benalla Police Station en route to Beechworth to face major charges after his wounding and capture during the Glenrowan siege. Before this event Benalla had been the headquarters in the search for the Kelly Gang. Benalla's growth and prosperity during the late 19th century is evidenced by some of the significant buildings of that time.

Moira House was Constructed by Mr George Sharpe in 1878. Sharpe was a successful local businessman who also became the first Shire President and a member of parliament MLC. Moira house is today used as the Benalla Mens' Club and the Moira Bowls Club.

The former Mechanics Institute was built in 1869 (courtesy Benalla & District Historical Society Inc.)

The Town Hall (1883) was originally constructed as the Town Hall and Municipal Chambers, with the latter use ceasing in 1972 after the construction of new offices.

During the 20th century Benalla gained importance as the regional headquarters of several Public Service Departments and enjoyed a fluctuating population as an RAAF Flight Training School during WWII and then as a post-war Migrant Holding Centre. Some of these migrants stayed on and became valued local citizens.

St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church built 1908 (courtesy Benalla & District Historical Society Inc.)

Benalla was declared a city in 1965.

Benalla's most famous former residents, commemorated in the Museum, include Michael J. Savage, New Zealand's first Labour prime minister, Captain Hector Waller of the ill-fated HMAS Perth and Australian war hero Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop who was born here in 1907 and is remembered in an impressive statue set in Benalla's historic Botanical Gardens, which were established in 1887.

Benalla & District Historical Society Inc
Information: The aims of the Society are to foster the interest in local and wider history by collecting, preserving and exhibiting/making available items and records of interest from the district and beyond. The Society operates the Benalla Costume and Pioneer Museum and has an accessible achives and research room.
Publications: There is a quarterly newsletter for members. The Society also has a number of brochures, books and information sheets available on request to the Society's postal or email address.
Events: Several meetings, which include guest speakers, are held during the year. New exhibitions are celebrated with a special opening function.
President Phone: 03 5762 2892
Contact: Mr John Hanlon (President)
Phone: 03 5762 6093 (Museum)
Address:

PO Box 201
Benalla VIC 3671

Email: benhist@vicnet.net.au
Website: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~benmus/
   
Benalla Costume and Pioneer Museum
Information: The Museum specialises in costume, shown in context in three galleries and also features changing exhibitions. There are also static displays of local history and famous personnel such as Sir Edward Dunlop, Captain Hector Waller and Michael Joseph Savage. A display of Ned Kelly and Gang includes Ned's sash, and the story in print, picture and video. The Museum also has a Research Room in which early news papers dating from the late 1800’s, books, documents, and pictures are stored. Opening hours are 9.00am to 5.00pm daily. Last entry to the Museum is 4.30pm. We are closed Christmas Day.
Phone: 03 5762 6093 - for information about Museum and its contents. 03 5762 1749 - for visits and group bookings.
Address:

14 Mair Street
Benalla VIC 3672

Website: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~benmus/
   
Benalla & District Family History Group
Information: The Group was founded in 1981. It aims to provide a venue and research facilities for the promotion of genealogy, family and local history in the Benalla district.
Publications: 'Roses and Thorns' edited by Marj Campbell.
Events: Monthly meeting, except for June, July and August; participates in Benalla Festival and other local events.
President Phone: 03 5762 3903
Secretary Phone: 03 5766 6206
Contact: Dawne Tonks (President); Bill Willett (Secretary)
Address:

PO Box 268
Benalla VIC 3671

Email: bdfhg@hotmail.com
Website: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~bfamhist/
   
Benalla & District Family History Group Rooms
Information: Rooms contain historical records, CDs, microfiche, books, certificates, photographs and old local papers from 1970. Opening hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 10am to 4pm on the first Saturday of the month.
Address:

Old St Andrews Hall, Church Street
Benalla VIC 3673

Email: bdfhg@hotmail.com
Website: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~bfamhist/
   
Benalla Visitor Information Centre
Phone: 03 5762 1749
Fax: 03 5762 1749
Address:

14 Mair Street
Benalla VIC 3672

Email: visitor.info@benalla.vic.gov.au
   
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