AN AUTHOR has traced the remarkable life of a man who gave Bendigo the Shamrock Hotel but left town in financial ruin.
Mary Healy's new book Heffernan of the Shamrock: The story of Sandhurst's Famed Hotelier traces William Heffernan's extraordinary and sometimes treacherous journey from Ireland to America and on to the pioneering days of the 1850s gold rush.
Heffernan became the Shamrock's first proprietor and ran a successful hotel at a time when many miners' only entertainment was the alcohol and free performance acts he brought to town.
"Everybody wanted to come because they had no lounge area or anywhere comfortable to sit, just a tent with a hole in it, Mary said.
"Also, Bendigo had a water deficiency. It was expensive and you had to drink it somewhere."
Bendigo's permanent supply of potable water was only secured decades later when a series of open channels and reservoirs linked the town to the Great Dividing Range.
Bendigo water woes: How a penny pinching government's pipes 'exploded'
"Heffernan and his partner - who I think was more of a bookkeeper - entertained between 800 and 1200 people every night, six nights a week for 16 years."
Heffernan built a series of entertainment venues but his business empire crashed after he sank too much money into a new 2000-seat hotel at the corner of View and MacKenzie Street.
"Goldfields populations are very transient. You can build something and suddenly there's no-one there to patronise it," Mary said.
Heffernan left for New Zealand in the mid-1870s.
He died there in about 1891.
It was the end of a remarkable life that had taken him from the violence and famine of 19th century Ireland to North America's east coast.
Heffernan had hoped for a better life there but found himself locked out of work by employers who refused to employ Irishmen.
"In a desperate economic position he travelled from Maine to New York and caught a boat down to the Panama," Mary said.
Heffernan trekked through tropical jungle to the Pacific Ocean and caught another boat to California and its 1840s gold rush. That is where he made his fortune.
"It was a wild place. He did see people trying to shoot each other," Mary said.
Heffernan soon left America for Victoria's goldfields and used insights from his time in California to build a business bringing food, drink and entertainment to Bendigo.
"He understood how important entertainment was to people," Mary said.
"Imagine how miserable it would have been in your tent? Most of the people who came to the rush were alone."
Mary will launch the book at the Shamrock on March 12 and is asking people to contact her if they would like to attend the COVID-safe event.
They can also arrange to buy a copy of the book by calling Mary on 0428 128 594.
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