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Hillgrove, NSW

Historic near-ghost gold mining town in the NSW Northern Tablelands.

What happens to a mining town when the mines close down? In the case of Hillgrove, which at its height had a population of 3,500, the buildings were sold and transported to other towns in the district where they were needed. In theory Hillgrove is an old gold and antimony mining town on the edge of Hillgrove Gorge in the Northern Tablelands. In practice it is a town of a few people and a few buildings so it is not a ghost town but rather a town which has contracted from a population of thousands to less than one hundred. When gold mining closed down in 1921 nearly all the buildings were dismantled and moved to Armidale and other centres. Today the only two original buildings of genuine significance are the post office and school which has become the local museum. The result is a fascinating "town" with lots of signs indicating where buildings once stood and lots of empty blocks of land with scattered, rusting relics which hint at a more prosperous time.

Location

Hillgrove is located 32 km east of Armidale and 542 km north of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway and New England Highway. It is 6 km south of the Grafton Road which runs from Armidale to Dorrigo and is 1000 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

Hillgrove started life as Eleanora Township and changed to Hillgrove in 1888. It was hardly a dramatic change. It was simply a case of naming the town after Hillgrove, a pastoral station to the north.

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Things to See and Do

Museum and Heritage Walk
The Hillgrove Museum is situated in the old Hillgrove School (1897) on Scouler Street. It contains a collection of photographs and memorabilia designed to give the visitor "a unique insight into everyday life in old Hillgrove".  It is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m., tel: (02) 6778 1048.

The museum also has an A4 sheet which identifies the 'Central Business District as at c1905". The sheet can also be obtained from the Armidale Visitors' Centre at the corner of Dumaresq and Marsh Sts, tel: (02) 6772 8527 or 1800 627 736.

There is another pamphlet available which is a guide to 'Metz or West Hillgrove - Based on Henry Hogarth's surveys, 1893'.

The town has a large number of signs and plaques indicating where most of the old shops were located. Four larger information signs are located around the town at the recreation ground, cemetery, Bracken Street south and the road into town.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Bakers Creek Falls
Bakers Creek Falls are clearly sign posted both on the road from Hillgrove back to Grafton Road (this is Old Hillgrove Road and it is gravel) or from Grafton Road. There is a good lookout which allows visitors to see both the falls and the gorge created by Bakers Creek.

Metz
On the other side of the gorge, sign posted from Grafton Road and 24 km from Armidale, is the historic mining village of Metz. It was originally known as Sunshine and sometimes known as West Hillgrove. It came into existence in 1889 when gold mining spread across Baker's Creek Gorge. In 1892 it became known as 'Metz' and by 1898 it had a population of 750 which was serviced by a post office (1890), two schools, three churches, several shops, a School of Arts, two hotels, a Masonic lodge, a brass band and cricket and football clubs. The town was short lived. By 1904 the population was in decline and the closure of the hotel, post office and school had closed by the late 1920s. Today little of the town is left and what does remain is on private property. A good A4 sheet to Metz is available from the Armidale Visitor Information Centre, 82 Marsh Street, Armidale, tel: (02) 6770 3888 and the Hillgrove Museum. The main interest lies in the views from the Metz Lookout where the remains of the old Bakers Creek Mine can be seen at the bottom of the gorge. It lies 490 m below the gorge wall and the mine shaft was sunk a further 610 m below the surface. A rope-hauled tramway operated by a steam-powered winding engine pulled the trams up and down the precipitous incline.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Hillgrove was inhabited predominantly by the Anaiwan and Kamilaroi Aboriginal groups who passed through the area on trading routes which joined the coast and the hinterland.

* Small amounts of alluvial gold were discovered at Bakers Creek as early as 1857 and antimony was discovered at Hillgrove in 1866 however it was difficult to access and large-scale mining did not commence in the area until the early 1880s.

* the sign at the entrance to the town declares that it was officially established in 1884.

* In 1888 the town changed its name from Eleanora Township to Hillgrove.

* A town rapidly developed reaching a population peak of 3,500 persons in 1898, at which time there were two banks and a mining exchange, six hotels, two billiard saloons, four churches, two schools, six general stores, a courthouse, butcher, baker, police station, a cottage hospital, school of arts, cordial factory, racecourse, cricketing oval, a number of boarding houses, a masonic lodge, debating society, pharmacies, temperance league, oyster saloon, technical college and two local newspapers (the Hillgrove Guardian and New England Democrat).

* In 1889 St Michael's Roman Catholic Church was consecrated and in 1891 a small convent and school were built. The school closed in 1921.

* In 1894 Hillgrove became the first town in Australia to use hydro-electricity which was generated from the Gara Gorge to the west of the town.

* For a decade, from the late 1880s to the late 1890s, Hillgrove was the richest gold-producing site in NSW.

* The mines closed in 1921 having produced 15 600 kg of gold in 32 years.

* With the closure of the mines most of the buildings were dismantled and removed to Armidale and surrounding towns.

* By 1933 only 241 people remained in the town.

* There was a brief revival of gold mining in 1937 and during the war years the Damned If I Know Mine, a small operation which extracted tungsten ore, was profitable because of the need for tungsten's steel-strengthening capacity.

* Antimony mining became important in 1969 and both antimony and gold are still mined today.

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Visitor Information

There is no visitor information in Hillgrove but the Armidale Visitor Information Centre, 82 Marsh Street, Armidale, tel: (02) 6770 3888 can provide useful information and the Hillgrove Museum has useful information.

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Accommodation

There are no facilities in the town.

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Eating

There are no facilities in the town.

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Useful Websites

There is no specific website for Hillgrove.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

31 suggestions
  • I have recently been informed that my great grandfather Andrew Boundy was the very first owner of the” Damned If I Know Mine” and was the person who had the mine named with its original name that still stands today. I am hoping that you can verify this information as actual fact for me please, if it is possible to check the old records of mine registration? I appreciate any help and information you are able to confirm for me. thank you. regards Mrs Colgan.

    Colgan
    • Thanks for the query. I would suggest that you contact the local Museum directly. They are likely to have most of the early information about the owners of the mines. If you don’t have any luck with them, then check back with me and I will see if I can find someone who can research the query.

      Bruce Elder
    • Hi there, Andrew Boundy is my Grandfather (Esma his wife) and my mother Esmay, Uncle John and Aunty Pam lived in Hillgrove till they moved to Swansea and later Wallsend. My grandfather was in a mining accident (hit by a coal car) in the Newcastle coal mines but survived and lived a good life. I hope to visit with my family soon and help update the records.
      Rob Paul

      Robert Paul
  • Was there an area at Hillgrove known as Paddy’s Rest? Our family records that Sara Jane Wheeler (Cain) had a hotel either known as Paddy’s Rest or at Paddy’s Rest, Hillgrove.

    Graeme Soderlund
    • Hi Graeme,
      I can’t answer this question but I am sure that the very committed people at the Hillgrove Museum will have detailed records. The museum is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m., tel: (02) 6778 1189. Give them a call. Now the town is effectively a ghost town they have been very eager to keep accurate records of the town’s past history. Best of luck.

      Bruce Elder
  • The following is a marriage notice. Currently looking for information on the father of the groom. I’m guessing that he was a gold miner. He is my great great grandfather. We think he came from England. Was he a convict? We have no information on him at all. Any ideas on where to look?

    regards
    Grant

    PIKE-JERRET.-On January 13, at Tuckumbil station, South Woodburn, by the Rev. T. Steele, BENJAMIN, the fourth son of John and Catherine Pike, Hillgrove, New England, to MAUDE, second daughter of James and Mary Jerret, Camira station, Clarence River. (New England papers please copy).

    Grant Spencer
  • I am currently researching a Raymond John Honey, born in Metz NSW in 1902. Could you please give me any addresses that would assist me in finding any descendants or information about my namesake? It is difficult obtaining info here in the UK. Many thanks R.Honey

    Raymond Honey
  • My mother, Eileen Bell, was born in Hillgrove in 1931. It’s a shame that there are no photos of the entire township at it’s peak. It has so much history to share.

    Susan O'Keefe
  • My grandfather Ernest Pitcher kept an article from The Hillgrove Guardian Saturday Evening October 23 1897. He was performing in Hillgrove as Mr SF Wilson with the Princess Comic Opera Company in Lecocq’s opera bouffe Girofle-Girofla on Wednesday 20 October, in Maritana on Thursday 21 October and Friday 22 October and in a sacred concert of religious and secular songs on Sunday 24 October. Sam Wilson was 18 years old at this time and, as far as I can tell, this was the only time he performed in Hillgrove.

    Lloyd Pitcher
  • Looking for Frances A Willis married William John Kinsella at Hillgrove, 1898. He worked in the mine at Hillgrove. Three of their children were buried in the old cemetery. Eight of their nine children were born at Hillgrove except Elsie who was born at Uralla in 1913. Does anyone know anything about this family from 1898 to 1917?

    vickie wyatt
    • Hi Vickie,
      I can’t answer this question but I am sure that the very committed people at the Hillgrove Museum will have detailed records. The museum is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m., tel: (02) 6778 1189. Give them a call. Now the town is effectively a ghost town they have been very eager to keep accurate records of the town’s past history. Best of luck.

      Bruce Elder
  • My great grandfather Edward Hargrave and his brother Richard, who I believe had a grazing property named Hillgrove. My great grandfather Edward had his property named Hernani at Ebor. I have never been to this area but intend to visit the two towns in the near future to find any history of my family.

    Graham Hargrave
    • Dear Graham,

      I wonder whether you could help?

      I am a curator at the V&A museum, London. I am currently writing a Dictionary of National Biography entry for two Victorian artists, Florence and Adelaide Claxton, who were the nieces of your great grandfather Edward Hargrave (daughters of his sister Sophia Hargrave and Marshall Claxton). They lived in Australia from 1850 to 1854. I was recently in Sydney and saw some family portraits drawn by Florence Claxton in the State Library that had been purchased from a descendant of Edward Hargrave. One of them depicts the girl’s parents ‘looking at Uncle Edward’s Portrait’. I am keen to find out when Edward Hargrave came to Australia – would he have been there at the same time as his sister (and could the drawings therefore relate to that period)? Also, do you know if there are any other surviving drawings, records or information in the Hargrave family that relates to the Claxtons?

      Florence and Adelaide are very interesting characters. In the 1860s they became the first women to carve out careers drawing for the illustrated press. I’d love to be able to find out more about their family background and the time they spent as teenagers in Australia. In 1863 they published a series of drawings ‘England versus Australia’ in the ‘Illustrated Times’ that promoted female emigration and which would have been based on their own firsthand experiences and knowledge of their family who lived in Australia.

      I would be very grateful for any information and would be happy to send you further information and images of the Claxtons if this is of any interest. My email address is c.flood@vam.ac.uk

      Catherine Flood
  • Hi can you help me in my search for the birth or baptism record on my husband’s grandmother. She was apparently born at Hillgrove nsw, but have checked bdm and there is nothing. So I was hoping maybe she may have been baptized in one of the churches there. Any ideas of where to look for her birth/baptism?

    Julie Bolton
  • Our house, we think, was relocated to the TAFE site in Armidale from Hillgrove last century. It was moved a second time in 1986 to the present site in St John’s Ave. How can we find out more certain facts?

    Elizabeth
  • Is there a cemetery at Hillgrove? One of my ancestors, Ambros Brandscheid, was supposed to have been buried there in 1904.

    Julie Higgins
    • Yes, there is a cemetery in Hillgrove. It is down one of the first roads on the right coming into town.

      Bella Chaffey
      • My Grandfather was Joseph Chaffey and he was a gold miner in Hillgrove. He lost an eye in a mine accident but lived to old age. My Grandmother died young (in childbirth) and is probably buried in Hillgrove. Joeseph is buried in Ebor. Dad (Ernest) was the eldest of 7 siblings all born and grew up in Metz and Hillgrove. I will have to call in soon and see if any records exist.

        Warren Chaffey
  • Regarding the post from ‘Grant Spencer’ about the marriage notice for Mr Pike and Miss Jerrett. Grant: please feel free to contact me!
    My great great grandparents are John and Catherine Pike. Their daughter (also Catherine Pike) married a Josiah Thompson who had a butcher’s shop at Hillgrove. According to my father, when the mine closed my great grandfather (Josiah Thompson) and his wife Catherine Thompson nee Pike came to New Zealand. They went back to NSW briefly before settling in New Zealand permanently. There are a few theories about John Pike and where he came from. One is that he was Irish and sailed from Ireland to Australia.

    Carolyn Gubb
  • My father tells me that when the mining stopped at Hillgrove, a lot of people owed my great grandfather Josiah (Joe) Thompson money. Only one person ever paid him back. One day in a butcher’s shop in Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand where Joe was working, a Chinese man came in, slapped some money on the counter and said: “Here’s the money I owe you Joe” and walked off.

    Great story. Thanks, Bruce Elder

    Carolyn Gubb
  • I am trying to find members of a Boney family. Andrew was born in 1908. Served in 2/3rd pioneers. Married in Urunga 1932. I couldn’t see any family in the Hillgrove Cemetery. Coulnd’t find in BDM or baptisms – maybe not registered in 1908. RC relgion.

    Alison Carter
  • My Grandfather Ronald Boyd was born in Hillgrove. His parents were Alexander and Christina Boyd. Christina’s maiden name was McNeil and they were married at Hillgrove, had their only son, my grandfather, there before eventually going to live in NZ. I now live in Australia and would like to learn about their life at Hillgrove. I am hoping to visit there one day but looking up accommodation there does not appear to be any available. I would like to see if there is any photographic history. I would be very pleased if someone can help me. Regards Frances Davis

    Frances Davis
    • Hi Frances,
      There is no accommodation in Hillgrove. You would stay in Armidale – lots of accommodation – and drive out. Make sure you go when the local museum is open. They will be able to help you with your enquiries.
      Bruce Elder

      Bruce Elder
  • My great grandparents, John Radcliffe and his wife Adelaide are both buried in Hillgrove cemetery. Are the gravestones readable?

    Merilyn Horton
  • My great grandparents, John Radcliffe and Adelaide are both buried at Hillgrove cemetery, are any headstones readable, as I’d love to visit.

    Merilyn Horton
  • My great great grandfather John Henry Mowle (Moule) is buried in Ebor Cemetery.Died 1911.

    He died at “Barwick” Hillgrove and I would like to know if that property still exists.

    John Archer
  • This is a really good site for Hillgrove many thanks for that. Is there a list of who owned the businesses in the town? Or is there a list of families names that were residence of that time? Thank you. Brian. W. Gilson

    Brian . W. Gilson.
  • My husband’s uncle, Syd Jackson was a teacher at Hillgrove in 1941/42. Have sent his photos to Armidale Historical Society etc, but now I have found another photo dated 1941/42 of a Mr Davis….all dressed up and prim and proper… was he the head master?

    marie duncan
  • My great granduncle died at Hillgrove in 1890, I think in the gold mine. Where can I find out if this is true? I googled Hillgrove mine accident and got the death in 5/1890 (he died 7/5/1890) name Thomas Wattus and is buried at Hillgrove Cemetery, wife Jane.

    Lesley Cox