A Story of the Bunyip Ten Shilling Note of 1856

By Tony Alsop

Being an avid paper money collector my interest was piqued when I scrolled through the Noble auction catalogue July 2005. There, underneath a scratchy image of a ten shilling note I read; WINCHELSEA STORE, Stirling & Sons, Bunyip Hotel, Geelong, issued at Winchelsea, ten shillings, currency note, dated 1st Sept. 1856, (18- printed), number No.886, no watermark, wreathed value tablets in upper corners, imprint of De Gruchy & Leigh, Engrs. Geelong.

Winchelsea Store Promissory 10 Shilling Note: Image Courtesy of Noble Numismatics

Stated on the front, ‘We Promise to pay the Bearer TEN SHILLINGS Stg here or at Bunyip Hotel Geelong, for Stirling & Sons, JAS. STIRLING SENR. BUNYIP HOTEL’, in centre block background TEN SHILLINGS, signed John Stirling (Manager), black on white. Folds, some gum residue on back, minor pinholes and toning areas, otherwise good fine, extremely rare and believed unique.

Ex Dr.Nicholson Collection, Sale 49 lot 1627. Many promissory notes were issued by stores and hotels, both of which are named on this note .The prosaic “Winchelsea Store ” and the more evocative ‘Bunyip Hotel’ are names almost considered fictional . This store promissory note is of great importance being one of only a few that have survived that circulated
from this era in Victoria.

This note and its origin , presented me with the challenge to research its history, mostly because Winchelsea is of special interest to me. West of Geelong it is where my family settled in 1845, my great grandfather was employed as a shepherd by the Austin family of Winchelsea.

The most obvious starting point was with James Stewart himself. He, his wife Anne, three daughters and four sons, William, John, Thomas and Peter, arrived in Geelong on the ship Robert Benue, January 1842.
Shortly before his arrival from Scotland, several subdivisions of land were undertaken between Ashby area and Aberdeen St. in West Geelong, and was affectionately known as Little Scotland. On June 7th 1847 the Geelong Advertiser referred to it as one of the prettiest and most thriving villages in New South Wales.

James soon opened up a store in Spring St, which he and his sons occupied until gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851, at which point, his sons Peter and Thomas took over the business. They obviously saw a need which would turn a tidy profit which lead to a covered in cart and a bullock dray to transport merchandise and flour to the miners of Ballarat. This venture earned them up to 100 pounds per trip.
In 1847 a William Arthur had applied for a publicans license, for an existing residence on the corner of Spring and Scotland Streets, but was refused, the reason given, was that the house was insufficient. However, it was soon after, that William Arthur let it be known that a license had been granted and delivered, and the Bunyip Hotel would open shortly, which it did on the 3rd march 1848.

Over the next three years, up to fifteen competing hotels opened up in the surrounding area, with eight of these being in the immediate area. The Bunyip Hotel suffered. This is when James stepped in and took over as licensee from William Arthur. The Hotel was advertised as having “good accommodation and horses carefully attended to”.

In 1853 James decided to relocate to Winchelsea, and extend his business enterprises by purchasing from the Elliott Bros. a large property, comprising of the Barwon Hotel, the Post Office store, and the Blacksmiths. With the help of his sons, John and William, he undertook the management of the Barwon Hotel ,which was by now a busy coaching stop on the corner of Main and Palmer Streets.

One can only assume that James was not a patriarch who ruled with an iron fist, as is evident by the fact that he left the Bunyip Hotel with Peter and Thomas, the Winchelsea property with William , and the named Manager on the ten shilling note is his son John. Clearly this was a man prepared to share.
The printers of the note were De Gruchy and Leigh of Geelong with little details of the printing and how many notes were actually printed, information of their history was difficult to obtain , their business shifted to Melbourne.

During this period it was legal for businesses to print their own paper money, or promissory notes, also known as Shinplasters ,they were made of flimsy paper so as they would quickly deteriorate before they could be honored. Shinplasteres were in spasmodic use in Australia as late as the 1940s.

In the 1850s Australia did not have its own currency, it was not until 1913 the first ten shilling note was printed,and it was 1910 that the first Australian coins were released, so in the 1850s all sorts of world coins and gold as a means of barter or exchange were used, so it was quite legal to have your own paper money ,or metal tokens produced.