Australian Heritage Commission, 2001
30 - Golden Square Police Quarters
363 High Street, Bendigo, Victoria
Former Golden Square police residence and office,1997.
In October 1851, gold was discovered in Bendigo Creek in the place which is now the suburb of Bendigo called Golden Square. The fortunate diggers were soon followed by a police presence to keep order and safeguard the gold. The first police at the Sandhurst (Bendigo) gold diggings were tent-dwellers on Camp Hill. In 1857 it was decided that there should be a permanent police presence at Golden Square and in 1859 the station was built by contractors Crawford and Co to house the three police. The double fronted brick house cottage had a central entrance lobby and consisted of three rooms, one with a fireplace. The cost of £870 was a substantial sum and included the brick lockup built in the following year. This was one of 42 police residences built in country towns in 1859, the first group constructed by Victoria's new Public Works Department.
Golden Square was one of many small police stations built in the late 1850s and early 1860s. This marked the move towards a more settled existence for Victoria's police. The designs for police quarters mirror changes in general settlement patterns after the nomadic life of the goldrushes. When alluvial mining gave way to deep lead mining, miners set up house in gold towns with wives and families in small cottages. Just as the miners became domesticated, so did the police.
The Golden Square quarters also represented a new era in policing. The period of the gold discoveries had seen accusations of corruption and brutality in the police. Formation of the Victoria Police Force in 1853 provided a centralised body and attempted to change citizens' perceptions. Part of this strategy was to provide a local police presence in towns and suburbs. The exterior of the Golden Square building was identical to domestic residences of the late 1850s. Family homes for married police made it easier for them to become part of a small community. A local policeman with a wife and children was more welcome than groups of mounted troopers who appeared only in response to outbreaks of trouble.
By the 1870s the police were established community figures whose identities can be discerned through public records. Police stationed at Golden Square in 1872 were Constables John Sheridan and James Mulheron. In 1894 the senior sergeant in charge was Irish-born Edward Cantwell, who had been in the Irish Constabulary. His Australian career dating from 1866 included offences such as 'gross carelessness in preparing the records of the watch house'. However, by the time he was sent to Golden Square, he was described as 'an efficient officer, conduct good'. Cantwell lived in the house from 1894 to 1900.
1884-5 plan showing the 1859 three-roomed quarters with the addition of a kitchen in brick (rear) and a tiny wooden office in a partitioned-off section of the front verandah, as well as the front elevation. In 1900 two weatherboard rooms were added to the rear.
The brick lockup was on the adjacent block facing High Street. Its size reflected the responsibilities of the station. The number of prisoners meant extra duties for the policeman's wife who had to cook for prisoners as well as her family. In 1920 the residence was remodelled, this time enlarging the parlour, dividing a rear room to form a walk-in pantry and a passage to the back door, adding a laundry-bathroom and a side verandah which allowed extra office space. The second bedroom was enlarged by incorporating the lobby. The alterations changed the orientation of the house to the north, with the main entrance for the family moving to the side verandah.
In 1927, the lockup was converted to an office. Access to motor transport meant that prisoners could be readily transferred to the Bendigo lockup. The station then became exclusively a family house. In 1922 Victorian police started to use motor-cars for traffic and patrol work. By 1930 there was a galvanised iron garage with wooden doors at Golden Square.
By that date, the house was a nine-roomed brick dwelling with an iron roof. It had a parlour, a dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and two sleepouts, a laundry-bathroom and a WC in the back yard. By then the house was connected to water, gas and electricity supplies. The water tank and tankstand were removed after the house was connected to mains water. The office had been converted to a second sleepout to accommodate a growing family, conforming to early twentieth century ideas about the benefits of sleeping in the fresh air. The laundry-bathroom had a copper, two iron troughs and an iron bath with a shower head and screen.
This was home to several generations of police families. Max Prentice recalls living there with his parents and two sisters between 1948 and 1956. He helped in his father's huge vegetable garden, slept in the sleepout on the north side and went to Bendigo High School on the tram. The kitchen had a wood stove and a gas ring. The toilet was outside the back door. The house with its high ceilings and thick walls was wonderfully cool in the summer. In the winter it was heated by log fires. The office was also heated with a big open fire with wood supplied by the police. There were no cells but Max can remember his mother providing food for prisoners waiting to be transferred by police van to the main Bendigo station.
Owners, Rod and Shirley McDonald outside the former police residence, 1997.
His father, Senior Constable James Prentice, was a massive man who weighed 19 stone and had two constables of similar build. The three could walk into any of the 15 hotels on the Golden Square patch and calm down trouble without lifting a finger. In front of the station was an air raid siren, left from World War II, placed over a notice board. Max's father would occasionally send an unwary visitor out to read the notices. As they read, he would press the siren button beside his desk to make them jump.
Prentice, whose record of conduct was exemplary over his 32 year career, received two special commmendations while in charge of Golden Square. In 1948, he was commended for 'perseverance, tact, ability and devotion to duty' for his part in the arrest of Allan Peter Vaughan, 'an active criminal', for breaking and entering. In 1949, Prentice was again commended for his courage in the re-capture of four escapees from the Castlemaine Reformatory.
After the police station was closed in 1972, the building was used by the Police Radio Technicians group who repaired police radios and used the house as their office and workshop. The present owners bought the house in 1996. They have restored the main house and plan to extend the police office to make it into a small flat.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Current owners, Rod and Shirley McDonald of Wendouree, who kindly provided photographs, Max Prentice, Constable Brendan Ryan of Bendigo, and the staff of the Police Historical Unit, Melbourne.
Haldane, Robert, The people's force: a history of the Victoria Police, 2nd ed, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1986.
O'Neill, Frances, 'The visible state: a study of government buildings in Victoria to 1900', MA Thesis, Monash University, 1993.
Public Record Office, Victoria: Public Works Department (PWD) Police Building Contract Book, 1858-79. VPRS 977; PWD Summary Contract Book. Contract No. 459 of 1926/27. VPRS 2143; PWD Architectural Drawings. VPRS 3252; Requisition 13 October 1922. VPRS 967/35
Report of the Chief Commissioner, Police Department. Melbourne, 1859. (Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1859-60 No. 35).
Sands and McDougall's Bendigo & District Directory for 1896-7, Melbourne, 1896.
Victoria Police Gazette, 2 June 1930.
Frances O'Neill BA (Melb) MA (Monash) is Senior Historian with Heritage Victoria. She is the author of publications on the Old Treasury Building and the Treasury Reserve, Melbourne, and the Old Colonists Homes at North Fitzroy. She has made a particular study of historic government buildings in Victoria.
Links to another web site
Opens a pop-up window