Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Walkerville … a Trove Tuesday post.

Tucked away in comparative isolation on Victoria’s southern coastline is Walkerville – one of my favorite places to visit.  Walkerville lies in the north-western curve of Waratah Bay, sheltered from the prevailing westerlies and providing a spectacular view across the bay to Wilson’s Promontory. 

This was where my grandmother grew up, and the place has always been special to me.  I doubt if there has been a single summer in my life which has not included a visit to Walkerville for picnics, beach rambles or a bushwalk. 

But Walkerville hasn’t always been a quiet place.  For a period of about 50 years in the late 19th & early 20th centuries, Walkerville was a thriving little community based on the important lime-burning trade.

Walkerville 2015 © K. Vincent

In October 1874, the following small paragraph appeared in The Age newspaper:

1874 article
NEWS OF THE DAY. (1874, October 12). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 2.
                                                                    Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201532936

The article heralded the beginning of a new industry for the colony of Victoria.  Lime was in high demand for the building industry, and marble was mostly imported.  The area had been surveyed in 1868 by Lieutenant H. J. Stanley of the Admiralty & Colonial Marine Survey.  He had reported good anchorage in this south-west corner of Waratah Bay, except during south & south-easterly gales.

1868 map Waratah Bay SLV
      Stanley, H. J. (Henry James) (1868). Australia, South coast, Victoria. Waratah Bay. Hydrographic Office, [London] http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/8396398

Consequently, the ‘township’ of Waratah was proclaimed in February 1874, with a view to the area’s suitability as a port for servicing the gold diggings at Stockyard Creek (now Foster).
In May of 1875, a group of enterprising businessmen from Melbourne chartered the steamer Williams, leaving from Sandridge Pier for Waratah Bay to inspect the location.

1875 article
NEWS OF THE DAY. (1875, May 3). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 2.
Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202135764

The full account of the trip, in the same edition, can be read here:  WARATAH BAY AND ITS LIMESTONE DEPOSITS

Marble Cliffs 

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic. : 1867 - 1875), p. 84.
Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60446295

The group wasted no time in commencing operations, with the formation of the Waratah Bay Lime & Marble Company – just four months later, in September, Melbourne newspapers carried advertisements calling for tenders for the erection of lime kilns at Waratah Bay.
Advertising (1875, September 7). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 3.
Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article7419065

The following year, Bright Brothers & Co., shipping agents, advertise for a vessel for the shipment of lime from Waratah Bay to Melbourne.

ad for ship 1876
                                      Advertising (1876, October 9). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 1.
Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5905249

(1879). Loading lime, Waratah Bay. Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, Melbourne  from SLV, originally published in Australasian Sketcher

Transporting lime by sea was not without danger, as the risk of fire was significant if the cargo should become wet.   The process of burning limestone in the kilns produces quicklime, a highly caustic powder which generates high temperatures when in contact with water.  The quicklime produced in the Waratah kilns was bagged for shipment to Melbourne, and if the ship encountered heavy weather at sea, the risk of water entering the hold and triggering the chemical reaction which would cause spontaneous combustion was significant. 

The history of the lime industry at Waratah is peppered with stories of fires on board ship.  The first recorded was that of the Phoenix in November 1876, shortly after Bright Bros. placed the above advertisement.

Phoenix fire 1876
LOSS OF THE KETCH PHOENLY (1876, November 18). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 15.
Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220460919

Other similar events occurred over the following years:
1884 Gazelle  nla.news-article70043636
1886 John & May  nla.news-article9119108
1908 Meeinderry  nla.news-article10655073
1913 Centurion  nla.news-article7290275
1918 Wyrallah  nla.news-article7290275
1927 Defender  nla.news-article140800200

An article in The Age 5 February 1877, reporting on the voyage of HMCS Victoria to Sydney and return, mentions the jetty at Waratah being under construction.  

Walkerville jetty
from Pilkington family collection

My great-grandfather, James Dewar, was appointed manager of the new lime works.  The exact date of his appointment is not known, but first reference I have found to him at Waratah is 1878.

James Dewar 1829 - 1907
Manager of Waratah lime works
from Pilkington family collection

James Dewar was a Scotsman who came to Australia in the 1850’s, and probably spent time on the Central Victorian goldfields.  On his marriage certificate in Geelong in 1859, he is listed as a quarryman.  By the time my grandmother’s birth was registered in Tootgarook in 1874, his occupation was lime burner.  It is reasonable to assume he was at that time employed at the lime kilns in Rye. 

James Dewar continued as manager of the Waratah kilns until his death in 1907.  During that time, he also served as post-master, electoral officer and registrar for the little community.  Upon his death, his son Alexander Dewar succeeded as manager, and when he went off to World War 1, brother Jim took over.

Over the course of its history, the Waratah kilns changed hands several times.  The name of the original township of Waratah was changed in about 1890 to Walkerville, named after William Froggatt Walker, Commissioner for Customs, who was part of a consortium which took over the kilns from Bright Bros. in 1884.  Later, in 1892, ownership changed again to Andrew A. McCrae.  

Walkerville kilns & jetty c1900
from Pilkington family collection

Increasing transport costs and competition from railways, combined with reduced demand from the building trade, eventually made production of lime at Walkerville uneconomical.  The kilns closed finally in 1926, although the nearby kiln at Bell Point struggled on for another year or so.  Following closure, and with no other employment opportunities in the immediate area, the workers and their families moved away, leaving Walkerville deserted.   Gradually, the bush reclaimed the surrounding area, and the jetty and kilns deteriorated.

deteriorating jetty - date unknown

from Pilkington family collection
Today, Walkerville is a quiet little holiday destination, popular with campers and fishing enthusiasts.  Homes change hands rarely, and for premium prices when they do.  Apart from the ruins of the kilns which dominate the beach, and the little cemetery up on the cliff, there are only small reminders of the industry and activity which once took place.

Walkerville township from jetty 1928
from Pilkington family collection ©

One stone wall containing the fireplace and chimney is all that remains of James Dewar’s residence, and now forms part of the retaining wall on the roadside.  A few patches of nasturtiums and some pea-flowered climbers among the bush are relicts of the former cottage gardens.  Just a single timber pylon survives from the jetty which once curved 300 feet out into the bay.

great-great-granddaughters of James Dewar, with last remaining jetty pylon
© K. Vincent 2012
In recent years, efforts have been made to protect the remains of the kilns and prevent further deterioration.  Signage has been created to inform the visitor of the history and significance of the area.  A short climb along a steep path leads to the little cemetery where James & Margaret Dewar lie at rest with others from the early settlement.


Walkerville kiln 2015  © K. Vincent


  1. An interesting post, who knew there was so much more to lime kilns? I'm glad there are still signs of what once was a thriving area... I enjoyed reading the expanded version.

  2. Thanks Chris, I thought the expanded article would take up too much space, but yes it is a good article.

    1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

      Thanks, Chris