The trail of W.C. Vahland

A little research into William Charles Vahland reveals he was so much more than an architect.

The German migrant became one of the most important hands in shaping the Bendigo community after it struck gold in the 1850s.

He was such a prominent and renowned architect that he had a hand in more than 200 buildings across the Goldfields region in six decades.

Vahland was also a justice of teh peace for 40 years, a director, chairman and managing director at Bendigo Mutual Permanent Land and Building Society (now Bendigo Bank) a member and secretary of the Bendigo freemasons and Barkly Ward councillor and mayor for a short time.

In 1884, he was treasurer of the School of Mines, where he was also an honorary examiner in mechanical drawings, architectural drawings, practical geometry and for the school of design.

As well as building and community, Vahland became proprietor of his father-in-law’s Charterhouse Estate in Runnymede.

He took a mad mess of tents and mud and mineshafts and turned it into a community. - David Beagley

There he established a vineyard that seeded vines from Germany. Vahland would vacuum-pack the grapes and send them back to Germany for processing into wine. 

His award-winning wine was exported to the United Kingdom before he sold the vineyard in 1904.

La Trobe University lecturer and Masonic historian  David Beagley said Vahland was effectively a founder of Bendigo.

“Every community needs founders and that’s what he was. He put so many things in place,” Mr Beagley said.

“He took a mad mess of tents and mud and mineshafts and turned it into a community. 

“It wasn’t just buildings. He (came from Hannover) trained as architect. He was just what we call an architect, Vahland was what is now called a building engineer. He was there on site, supervising the scaffolding and the (construction) of the buildings.” 

Vahland arrived on the Goldfields in 1854 to mine for gold but was unsuccessful.

He turned his hand to carpentary and eventually set up his own architecture business in McCrae Street opposite the Black Swan Hotel with fellow German architects Robert Getzschmann and William Nicolai.

In just a sort walk from St Kilian’s church in McCrae Street along Pall Mall and up View Street to the Rifle Brigade Hotel, you can see no less than 30 structures created by Vahland and his team.

Bendigo’s finest buildings, including the town hall, the Shamrock Hotel and the Bendigo Masonic Temple (now The Captial theatre) had Vahland’s influence. The iconic Shamrock was designed by Philip Kennedy (a student of Vahland’s). 

It includes many aspects that Vahland was renowned for including 22 carat gold leaf, a Eurpopean style and elegant facades.

He also helped build and design the Bendigo Hospital, the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum (now the Anne Caudle Campus), the School of Mines, the Mechanics Institute, the Princess Theatre, the Cascades in Rosalind Park, the Alexandra Fountain, the Sandhurst Club, the Commercial, National and Colonial Banks and the grandstand at Canterbury Park in Eaglehawk are all on Vahland’s list of architectual acheivements.

Vahland’s buildings and influence can also be found outside of Bendigo.

He had a workshop in Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, designed the London Charted Bank in Horsham, the Bank of New South Wales in Hay and the Federal Standard Printing Works in Chiltern (near Albury).

“He was a fascinating person. I discovered a lot about him through the Masonic Lodge,” Mr Beagley said.

“The (Bendigo chapter) Golden and Corinthians has been going for 161 years now and he was secretary for 38 years.

“In 2004 for the 150 anniversary (of the ldoge) I edited and wrote a book on the lodge’s history. In doing that I realised he wrote a history book for the 50th anniversary in 1904.”

“I keep going further and further and finding out more and more about him.”

At the beginning of World War Onehe was forced to surrender his passport.

“They said he was born in Germany, which didn’t exist when he was born in Hannover, which was controlled by George IV who was English,”Mr Beagley said. “But they said he was German and a foreigner even though he was naturalised in 1867.”

During May the National Trust Heritage Festival is honouring the 100th anniversary of Vahland’s death with a series of tours and events that showcase his talent and commitment to the Bendigo community.

Tours include areas such as central Bendigo, the White HIlls cemetary, Hotel Shamrock, Bendigo town Hall, and a memorial tour.

For more information on Vahland, or to find more information on the events planned for May visit www.celebratevahland.com.au

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