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Henry Hadden's Road to Shady Creek

Coach track, Shady Creek
Remnants of the old coach road at Shady Creek


Henry Hadden was Walhalla's first resident doctor.

He came to Melbourne from Ireland on a flood-tide of gold-driven immigration in 1853 as quite a young man, only to disgrace himself on the western Victorian goldfields, and as a result, served what for him must have been some very hard time working on the pitifully inadequate roads of the infant Colony as an involuntary guest of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Eventually granted a ticket of leave, he blended into the Alpine background, reappearing at Omeo in 1862 and Walhalla in 1866. By 1869 he had died in rather tragic circumstances, but with a medical reputation which had been in tatters for more than 10 years, now abundantly restored in the eyes of a grateful Walhalla community. For all his faults and failings, and despite his only-brief tenure in Walhalla -- from early 1866 until his death in mid-1869 -- he fully deserves his place in the pantheon of Gippsland's pioneer medicos. I hope these pages will explain why.

As a result of a long-overdue visit to Walhalla for the centenary of the town's "temporary" Mountaineer Brass Band Rotunda's in November of 1996, I joined what was then its Heritage League, where I've been a member ever since. In that capacity, I originally set up this website, www.walhalla.org.au, on the League's behalf, and I've maintained it ever since, helping to field correspondence from people seeking family connections or more information about aspects of life in the pioneer gold town.

As these pages will show, it was through such an inquiry that I first became more interested in the story of Henry Hadden, a name I'd known until then only as one of a number of early medical men in the town. The fact that he is distinguished as the first resident doctor in the town, however, is incidental to this saga. More relevant is the tortured path he took to get there, and to his eventual death at a small coaching stop several kilometers away to the south-west. The long and short of this story is that I have visited his grave at Shady Creek in company with two of his family descendants, who then travelled on up to Walhalla, where they stayed for a couple of nights. The resulting exposure to Henry Hadden's full story convinced me that it needed a bit more exposure, and these pages are the first fruits of that conclusion.

Due to an early failure to learn how to step back quickly enough, I've been a member of the Heritage League's management committee for some time now. In that capacity, once a month, if not more often, I undertake a round trip of about 350 km to Walhalla and back in order to attend meetings there, and even though I'd prefer not to have to get out of bed at 6 am on a Sunday to get to them on time, from the moment I leave my driveway, I've never really resented the trip itself. Can't always say the same for the driving conditions, or for some of the other drivers I meet along the way, of course ...

Approaching Trafalgar on a foggy morning
Heading east into Trafalgar (oh, yes, obviously!) on a foggy Prince's Freeway
The hills are out there somewhere!

But whenever I have a chance and a few extra minutes on my hands, rather than taking the express run along the Prince's Freeway these days, I'll travel there via the "old" road that can still be tracked from Labertouche through to Sale, which still passes through the original site of Shady Creek. Until late 2011, I only ever had a very dim appreciation at best of exactly where that road ran, let alone where Shady Creek actually was along it, and how to get there, but now I see that where there once was a coaching road, today there is a fine and engaging drive on a road that's not often busy, through some very varied and interesting countryside. It's a sealed, C-class country road all the way that's mostly in good condition, and the surest indicator of how much fun it is to drive is that lately, I'll sometimes notice groups of up to a dozen or more motorcyclists flying past me in the opposite direction. I'm not altogether sure that they'll thank me for revealing a route that until now has been a fairly well-kept secret, although regrettably, in late 2012 it was also the scene of a motorcycle fatality, in the vicinity of Shady Creek.

Old Sale Road east of Shady Creek
Heading west from Moe on Old Sale Road
... east of Shady Creek

In fact, the real, original, old Old Sale Road in this area actually shadows the road above (which is more correctly known as "O'Brien's Road" at this point), running roughly parallel to it and half a kilometer or so to the north. It's no longer even all a gravel road, but where it is, at its western end, it looks far more authentic, like this:

Old Sale Road east of Shady Creek
Heading west from Westbury on the really old Sale Road
... well east of Shady Creek

You could almost be forgiven for expecting to have to give way to a coach rattling up the road, coming the other way!

I started writing Henry Hadden's story, and I quickly discovered that I'd no sooner lift up some corner of its background fabric than I'd find other even more absorbing avenues to pursue, and there was a real risk that it would become a "Ben Hur" that no-one would ever bother to read, assuming that I ever got around to finishing it. So rather than waiting until I could publish it all on paper (which I intend to do eventually, for sale through our Corner Store), I decided to break the story up into the following instalments which I published piecemeal via this website, adding a live link as I completed each segment:

Start at the start and follow the story's progress -- I think you'll enjoy it, and I hope that you do. Feel free to drop us an email to tell us what you thought of it, or to add anything that you feel might clarify parts of it where detail is lacking or (heaven forbid!) possibly even wrong ....

... and acknowledgements

It's with considerable gratitude that I acknowledge the opportunity that was afforded to me by Henry Hadden's great-grand-nephew, David Hadden01, and his family to read his great-grand-uncle's travel journal, as well as his first and only letter home, from which I have quoted with his permission. Above all, I should thank David and his wife Diana, whose visit to Australia in late 2011 prompted this whole line of inquiry in the first place.

However, I also need to acknowledge a lot of other people who have helped to contribute to this story. The two brothers who own the quiet cattle grazing property at Shady Creek where the remains of Henry Hadden lie, not only bent over backwards to accommodate the wishes of the latter-day Haddens to visit the gravesite of their ancestor; but even before that, had taken some extraordinarily generous steps to preserve the gravesite that they only found out about after they'd bought the property. Andrew Sestokas, a fellow member of the Heritage League who lives at Happy-go-Lucky, has a unique association with Henry Hadden by virtue of currently occupying the land that was first purchased by him there in 1866, across which the Union Hotel was subsequently built.

My colleagues from the Royal Historical Society of Victoria's History Victoria Support Group, convenor Lenore Frost and Castlemaine Historical Society's Alleyne Hockley helped by respectively providing information about early Melbourne's layout and local press articles from Castlemaine on Henry Hadden's trial there. The inaugural convenor of the HVSG, the redoubtable Joan Hunt, FRHSV, now at PROV, also helped to confirm a suspected association of one of the fellow travellers on Henry Hadden's final coach trip. Carmen Powell and others at Dandenong Historical Society provided information on the coaching stops in Dandenong. Geoff Wachter of Noble Park furnished some photos of early coaching days, and information about Shady Creek, and also has quite a keen and personal interest in the unusual history of the nearby area of Mizpah Settlement Road.

Two archivists to whom I am particularly indebted are Harriet Wheelock of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, for explaining the role and training of the mid-nineteenth-century apothecary; and Gabriele Haveaux from the Royal Melbourne Hospital for helping me to position that institution in the budding township of the late 1860s, still largely residential, and for providing early pictures of what the hospital looked like then. Most recently, thanks are also due to Dr Jacqueline Healy, curator of the Medical History Museum at the University of Melbourne, and to Phoebe Wilkens at PROV for providing access to images of Henry Hadden's inquest depositions file from a closed repository.

And finally, to give credit where it is abundantly due, virtually without exception my contemporary newspaper sources for much of what follows has been the National Library's brilliant "Trove" database -- our newest national treasure. It's doubtful that this immensely valuable repository will ever be "finished", given the current state of optical character recognition (OCR) technology, which as far as I can see, hasn't advanced much in the last 30 years, and more importantly, the current abysmal state of cultural budgets, but it already contains a vast wealth of early newspaper archives that are crying out for volunteer participation in the refinement and correction of their (sometimes-amusing) mechanical interpretation. Do your grandchildren and their grandchildren a big favour by getting yourself recorded as someone who helped in this massive task! You'll not only get a warm inner glow out of it, but assist in making it morally a little more difficult for The Powers That Be to ever consider turning around and -- as they've done elsewhere -- charging you for access to it ...

Footnotes have been provided for the books from which I've drawn supporting citations, as well as for links to the many websites that I used to develop this story. Those links will age, of course, and over time some of their target pages will disappear. If this interferes with your enjoyment of the story, please accept my apologies in advance -- if you could let me know via an email directed to just my surname (below) at bigpond.net.au, I'll try to replace obsolete links with something more appropriate as and when they're brought to my attention.


01 Regrettably now, the late David Hadden, or more correctly, the late Professor Doctor David Robert Hadden (24/5/36-26/2/2014). Yet another descendant, Yvonne Hadden Freundl, of Winnipeg, Canada, first alerted me to Dr David Hadden's death, as a direct result of a family history inquiry of her own that she addressed to our website.

Unbeknownst to me all along, he was clearly rather eminent in his field, as was revealed in his obituary, published in "The Telegraph" on April 22nd, 2014 (retrieved May 23rd, 2014). As early as 1972, he was one of the first researchers to correctly predict an increase in the rate of the incidence of diabetes due to contemporary Western lifestyles and diet. He subsequently conducted related research into growth hormones and became widely known as an authority on diabetes during pregnancy. During a very distinguished medical career, he had been appointed a Consultant Physician at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital, and had travelled as a Fulbright Fellow to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD.

Our condolences are extended to Diana and their family.


© 2014 Bernard Bolch for the Walhalla Heritage and Development League.

Send your questions, comments and suggestions about this web site to info@walhalla.org.au..
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This page last changed: 23/05/14.