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Bees, Blocks & Bodies

With a bit of experience and confidence, and the vast array of record which are available online and in public archives, short history stories can be written with a small amount of research by anyone with an inquisitive mind, an eye for detail and desire to dip a toe in the world of local history. The following article was created from two days’ of initial research at Bendigo Regional Archive Centre (BRAC) and readily-available online sources. A combination of rate books, TROVE digital newspapers, WWI service records, Birth, Death and Marriage records in VIC, TAS and England, parish and historic plans, online cemetery data, Victoria Government Gazettes and the PROV catalogue have all been used in this case.

The original Strathfieldsaye Shire rate books, held at BRAC, include properties in the Axedale riding. Many of the properties are owned and occupied by farmers, labourers and the typical sorts of occupations one expects in a small town. A random choice of a rate book from 1936 (figure 1) showed that Frederick T Bennett was the only person recorded as a bee keeper in Axedale [1].

A search of TROVE for more information on this man revealed a local murder mystery and further investigation showed that from 1895 through to 1977, three generations of the one family were beekeepers (apiarists) at Axedale, namely James Bennett, his son Frederick Tasman Bennett and Frederick’s son Douglas Gordon Bennett. [2]

Figure 1. Part of 1936 Strathfieldsaye Shire rate book, Axedale Riding

James Bennett had married Elizabeth Candlin in 1881 in Shropshire.[3] Their first two children appear to be Herbert, born in May 1882 and Frederick in June 1883, both in Launceston, Tasmania.[4] For these births, and the following ones of his sons Harry, Stanley and Harold in Launceston in 1885, 1886 and 1888 respectively, James’ occupation is recorded as pattern maker. Between 1888 and 1890 the family moved to Victoria and between August 1890 and May 1891 James was a bee-keeper at Mount View apiary, Tallarook Victoria.5] He had 50 stocks (lines) of bees in 1889 and in 1891 had 76. His best yield was 280 pounds of honey from a single colony of bees, his total yield being 5,700 pounds comb and 300 pounds extracted, the average yield per colony being 80 pounds. He was keeping Ligurian and Ligurian hybrid bees in ‘Haddon shallow frame, and a few Langstroth’ hives. The market value of his honey was £200 or about £4 per hive. Two more children, Clarence Seymour and Amy Victoria, were born at Seymour to James and Elizabeth in 1892 and 1894 respectively, showing a family trend of naming their children after where they were residing.[6]

By 1894 the family had moved to the Bendigo district and a report in the Bendigo Advertiser of May that year records that James had been the manager for the Weeroona Apiary.[7] In July 1894 he had also taken up a selection of three acres in the township of Axedale for cultivating bees and had already established 150 hives by May 1894 .[8] This land was occupied under Section 99 of the 1890 Land Act which gave James an annual licence to occupy the land for non-agricultural purposes, including market gardens. James first appears in the Strathfieldsaye rate books in the 1895/96 year as a ‘bee farmer’, occupying a ‘bee farm’ at Axedale.[9] Three more children were born to the couple, namely Edith, Ida and Hilda, all registered at Bendigo in 1897, 1901 and 1903 respectively.[10] From June 1895 Elizabeth also selected a block of land in Axedale (and previously occupied by James Harrison) recorded as being a further three acres for a garden, with both licences being continually renewed through to 1901.[11]

James Bennett paid rates in 1908 for land at Axedale valued at £5 and a farm at Axe Creek valued at £10, then his son Frederick Bennett appears in the rate books for the first time in 1909.[12] Also a bee keeper Frederick was occupying three acres of land, and James is only recorded as occupying a farm in Axedale that year. In April 1908 both James and Elizabeth were due to face a hearing to determine if their Crown land licences should be forfeited.[13] The outcome does not seem to have been reported in the local newspaper, perhaps indicating they were in arrears with their licence fees, but in March 1909 Elizabeth’s licence expired.[14] When her allotment (Allotment 4 of Section 15 on the corner of Shadforth and Eddington Streets) was offered for sale at a Crown land auction in August 1909, Frederick purchased the land for £12 (Figure 2).[15] Frederick also purchased the three acres adjoining this land (Allotment 5) on 21 May 1910, this being the Crown allotment that James had occupied since 1894.[16]

Frederick married in 1913 to Claudine Valerie Sarah Manser and a daughter Gladys was born in 1914.[17] At least one more child was born to the couple, being Douglas Gordon Bennett ca 1921 at Bendigo.[18] Frederick enlisted for WWI service at Bendigo on 15 January 1915, described on his enlistment papers as an apiarist of Axedale, aged 31 and six months, height five feet and eight inches, with black hair, brown eyes and dark complexion and married with one child. He was discharged medically unfit in March 1916 due to pre-existing lumbago and sciatica.[19] Frederick’s brothers Stanley and Harold Percy also enlisted.[20] His brother Herbert is described as a gardener and was paying rates for a garden on the McIvor Road in 1915.[21] The timing of Frederick discharge in 1916 coincided with what was hoped to be one of the best honey production seasons in Axedale for a while, ‘judging by the appearance of the buds of the grey box trees’.[22]

Figure 2 Portion of Axedale Township plan showing Frederick Bennett’s purchased land in Section 14

In 1916 James was reported to be of nearby Longlea, suggesting this was the location of the farm for which he had been paying rates.[23] James Bennett died in 1932 aged 75 and Elizabeth died in 1939 aged 80, both are buried at Axedale.[24] The location of his Longlea farm was not determined with the time and resources available for this article, however his probate file, located at PROV Melbourne, would probably record the details.[25] There is also evidence that Frederick Bennett occupied other Crown land in the township or parish of Axedale, possibly for bee-keeping purposes.[26]

Frederick Tasman Bennett died in Castlemaine on Christmas Day in 1963, aged 84, and was buried at Axedale.[27] His wife Claudine died in 1985 aged 95 and is buried with him.[28] Their son Douglas appears in the 1957/58 and 1958/59 rate books as an apiarist, paying rates for a property at Axedale, the third generation of bee-keepers at Axedale.[29] He is still recorded as an Apiarist in the 1977 Strathfieldsaye electoral roll, however he had moved into Bendigo East by 1980.[30]

The story of this bee-keeping family is similar to many, many more that can be written using similar resources to those shown here. It can be written from an occupation or family perspective depending in the interests of the writer. But adding a bit of mystery and intrigue to a story makes for interesting reading, and such was the case in this story. In November 1933, while walking along Mosquito Creek, which originates at west of Lake Eppalock and feeds into the Campaspe River upstream of Axedale, Frederick Bennett found a body floating in the water.[31] This chance occurrence solved a local murder-suicide mystery.

On 9 October 1933, Jessie Griffinhagen of Junortoun went to Strathfieldsaye to check on her brother William (aged 23) whom she had not seem for some time, only to discover that the wattle and daub hut in which he lived with his uncle James Pattison (aged 68) had been burnt down. A charred body found in the ruins was initially thought to be Pattison, due to his signet ring being found nearby, and the police began to hunt for William, including looking in old mineshafts.[32] By October 16, after the police sifted through the ashes of the hut, found Griffenhagen’s glasses, realised that the ring found also belonged to him, and that Pattison’s false teeth had not been found, they realised they had mis-identified the body and it was Pattison who was missing, as was a rifle he had purchased on September 30.[33]

A few days later a young man fitting Griffenhagen’s description reported at the Swan Hill police that he was wanted for murder, and then left the station and jumped off the Murray River bridge.[34] This turned out to be a false lead, determined in part due to the discrepancy in height and build between Griffenhagen and the mystery confessor. It was Bennett’s unlikely, and probably unwanted, find on November 9th which revealed the real fate of Pattison.[35] He had used the shotgun to take his own life while standing on a fallen log across the Mosquito Creek, and pre-weighted himself with a 40-pound bluestone rock on a rope to ensure he then toppled into the creek.[36] Pattison’s body was identified by his missing fingers, and artificial eye he wore.[37] Fitting the pieces together, the subsequent inquest, while giving an open finding into Griffenhagen’s death, heard that it was possible Pattison, who was known to have ‘a violent temper which was ungovernable when he was under the influence of drink’, had killed his nephew, burnt the hut to hide the crime, then attempted to leave the district before finally taking his own life.[38] The whole story, including Frederick Tasman Bennett’s role in solving the crime, was retold by journalist Hugh Buggy as “Murder in the Bush” in the Argus in 1950.

While short family history stories may have a limited audience they are worthwhile writing and can offer clues and inspiration for others trying to write on their own favourite subject. History is a giant time-consuming jigsaw puzzle, and if everyone has a go at fitting in a few pieces here and there, we can all enjoy the challenge.



[1] PROV, VPRS 16136/P1, Unit 58, Axedale riding of Strathfieldsaye Shire rate books at BRAC.

[2] PROV, VPRS 16136/P1, Units 20 to 79, Axedale riding of Strathfieldsaye Shire rate books.

[3] “Five Sons Enlist.” Bendigo Advertiser, 7 April 1916.

[4] Victorian Death Index, registration numbers 1193 of 1932 and 18240 of 1939; “Axedale General Cemetery.” Australian Cemeteries website, 2007 Accessed 18 May 2021).

[5] See PROV, VPRS 7591/P2, Unit 891, Item 254/015 and VPRS 28/P3, Unit 2407, Item 254/015, will and probate of James Bennett, 1932.

[6] See PROV, VPRS 5357/P0,Unit 1980, Item 401/145 dated 1900 to 1911, VPRS 5357/P0, Unit 1979, Item W39633 dated 1920, and VPRS 5357/P0, Unit 3208, Item 25/132, dated 1920 to 1921, all Land Selection And Correspondence Files.

[7] Victorian Death Index, registration number 181 of 1968; “Axedale General Cemetery.” Australian Cemeteries website, 2007 Accessed 18 May 2021).

[8] Victorian Death Index, registration number 18697 of 1985.

[9] PROV, VPRS 16136/P1, Unit79, Axedale riding of Strathfieldsaye Shire rate book 1957/58 and 1958/59.

[10] Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Australian Electoral Commission, Strathfieldsaye Subdivision 1977 and Sandhurst East Subdivision 1980 Electoral Rolls.

[11] “Body in Creek.” Argus (Melbourne), 9 November 1933: 8, “The Bendigo Mystery.” Age (Melbourne), 10 November 1933: 16; he is initially reported as Frederick Desmond Bennett, then Frederick Bennetts, a bee-farmer of Axedale.

[12] “Burnt Body Inquest.” Herald (Melbourne), 11 October 1933: 5; “Bendigo and District.” Argus (Melbourne), 16 October 1933: 3.

[13] “New Turn in Hut Crime.” Herald (Melbourne), 16 October 1933: 5.

[14] “Mystery of a Tragedy.” Weekly Times (Melbourne), 30 August 1890: 29.

[15] “Murder in the Bush.” Argus (Melbourne), 4 February 1950: 28-31.

[16] “Hut Mystery Solved.” Herald (Melbourne), 9 November 1933: 13.

[17] “The Bendigo Mystery.” Age (Melbourne), 10 November 1933: 16.

[18] “Hut Fire Inquests.” Herald (Melbourne), 14 November 1933: 4.

[19] General Registry Office (England), Birth Index, 1881 December Quarter, Ref 6a/1503 accessible via Elizabeth’s surname occasionally appears in records as Caudlin, Chandlin or Cantlin.

[20] Victorian Death Index, registration number 18102 of 1963, Herbert Bennett aged 81 at Longlea son of James Bennett and Elizabeth Candlin (born ca 1882); National Archives of Australia, Series MT1486/1, BENNETT/FRED TASMAN, Bennett, Fred Tasman states he was born in Launceston and was aged 31 years and 6 months when he enlisted in January 1915; a search of Libraries Tasmania website and using the “Names Index” option to narrow the search shows Herbert’s birth as Resource: RGD33/1/60 no 247, born Launceston 31/5/1882 son of James Bennett and Elizabet Cantlin, and Resource RGD33/1/62 no 2982 Fred Tasman Bennett born 17/6/1883 son of James and Elizabeth Chandlin.

[21] “A Peep into a Bee Hive.” Weekly Times (Melbourne), 30 August 1890: 29; “The Bee-Keeper.” Weekly Times (Melbourne), 2 May 1891: 29.

[22] Victoria Birth Index, registration numbers 36379/1892 and 24205/1894.

[23] “Our Country Service.” Bendigo Advertiser, 30 May 1894: 3.

[24] “Applications for Licenses Approved.” Victoria Government Gazette, 14 July 1893: 3184. License number 57 under Section 99 of the 1890 Land Act.

[25] PROV, VPRS 16136/P1, Unit 21 Axedale riding of Strathfieldsaye Shire rate books.

[26] Victorian birth index, registration numbers 954/1897, 951/1901 and 23370/1903.

[27] “Applications for Licences Approved.” Victoria Government Gazette, 14 June 1895: 2378, licence number 76 dated 14/6/1895. See also Victoria Government Gazettes, 1896 pg 190, 1897 pgs 500-1, 1898 pg 987, 1899 pg 1339 and 1900 pg 924-5; “Government Notices.” Bendigo Advertiser, 27 March 1895: 3.

[28] PROV, VPRS 16136/P1, Units 31 and 32, Axedale riding of Strathfieldsaye Shire rate book 1908 and 1909.

[29] “Hearings Against Forfeiture.” Australasian (Melbourne), 28 March 1908: 5.

[30] “Licences and Leases Expired.” Weekly Times (Melbourne), 27 March 1909: 45.

[31] “Crown Lands Sale.” Bendigo Advertiser, 18 August 1909: 4; VPRS 16171/P1, Plans A-Bl, Township of Axedale 5024, showing Section 14 allotments 4 and 5, F T Bennett.

[32] VPRS 16171/P1, Plans A-Bl, Township of Axedale 5024, showing Section 14 allotments 4 and 5, F T Bennett; the license number 57 under Sections 145 and 146 of the for the 3 acres is the same used for James’ allotment.

[33] Victorian marriage index, registration number 697 of 1913; Victorian Birth Index, registration number 19021 of 1914 (Claudine’s maiden name is recorded as Mauser).

[34] Victorian Death index, registration number 2845 of 1980, Douglas Gordon Bennett aged 59 at Bendigo son of Frederick Tasman Bennett and Claudine Manser, born Bendigo.

[35] National Archives of Australia, Series MT1486/1, BENNETT/FRED TASMAN.

[36] “Country News.” Bendigo Independent, 21 January 1915: 8; “Five Sons Enlist.” Bendigo Advertiser, 7 April 1916: 5; National Archives of Australia, Series B2455, BENNETT H P, Bennett Harold Percy : SERN 5245.

[37] PROV, VPRS 16136/P1, Unit 36, Axedale riding of Strathfieldsaye Shire rate book 1915.

[38] “Axedale.” Bendigonian, 2 March 1916: 11.

First published 19 May 2021

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