A MAN trying to beat his wife was instead killed with the butt of a whip outside an iconic hotel whose secrets have been plumbed by archeologists on regional Victoria's biggest ever dig.
The team have sifted through the footprints of the Sandhurst Hotel, which once stood on the corner of what is now Lyttleton Terrace and St Andrews Avenue.
The hotel has long given historians insights into life, death and even violence in Bendigo's early days, especially when events at the venue made the headlines.
James Smith had marched over to the Sandhurst Hotel one notorious night in 1856, demanding his wife Mary come outside.
The nasty little urchin had assaulted her earlier in the evening. Mary had fled their home with their son, so Smith set the place on fire.
He then decided to march over to the Sandhurst Hotel and stand outside, in the dark, demanding that she come out.
When no-one opened the door Smith began smashing the hotel's windows with an "adze" - a type of axe often used by woodworkers.
That did not sit well with hotel proprietor Edward Allen.
Allen came outside and at first tried to defuse the situation.
Smith was having none of that.
He took two swings at Allen with his adze.
That turned out to be a big mistake.
Allen swung his whip butt-first at Smith with a monumental heave. It landed on Smith's skull with an ominous crack.
Smith had regained consciousness when his mate and a night watchman carried him into a nearby police lock-up.
But he was not in a particularly good state.
The pair had figured being sent to the lock-up was going to be the best way to get Smith medical treatment given the time of night and the fact he had burnt his home down.
Unfortunately, the police officer in charge took a fairly casual approach and assumed Smith's slurred speech and unsteady gait had more to do with him being drunk.
The fact Smith was still bleeding slightly from a badly bandaged head wound did not seem to add any urgency to the officer's search for a doctor that night.
Smith's collapse into unconsciousness on his cell floor also had a less than energetic response.
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A few runners were sent out to see if any doctors were home but it was not until the next morning that a anyone with any apparent experience with caring for injured human beings was found.
That GP turned up, pocked their finger into Smith's skull hole and immediately removed him from the officer's care.
Smith died a few days later, according to the Bendigo Advertiser's coverage of the coroner's inquest in 1856.
A post-mortem concluded a piece of skull bone had fractured and was bent into his brain, slowly killing him.
The coroner blasted police for not providing a doctor as he lay in the Bendigo lock-up.
A circuit court jury later found Allen not guilty of manslaughter and let him walk free.
Archeologists have not found Smith's adze (not surprisingly, given it became evidence in a coronial inquest) but they have been able to use their own tools to dig up incredible insights into the area's past.
Those history hunters have granted the Bendigo Weekly a peek behind closed doors as they continue to sift through the better part of 115,000 artefacts they dug up during that incredible 2021 dig at the former Sandhurst Hotel and the long-gone buildings next door.
What they have found will shape our understanding of this city's history for generations to come.
Archeologists dug into the Sandhurst Hotel's basement level earlier this year.
By that time the site of the hotel was a construction site, and before that a peaceful lawn and footpath overlooking the council offices.
There is little sign today that this part of town once housed an occasionally rough hotel and bar, a busy open air market, artisans and residents.
It is a different story once you start digging, archeologist Zak Jones and heritage consultant Bronwyn Woff say.
The pair from Eco Logical Australia and Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants have been sorting through artefacts recovered from the dig so far.
Their work is giving fresh insight into people's lives away from the sorts of newspaper headlines that Smith and Allen garnered that night in 1856.
"With two pubs and many shops on the site, we have found artefacts from these businesses including the remains of meals and drinking activities, a butcher's knife and cleaver, many horseshoes from a likely farrier or blacksmith, and large quantities of leather offcuts and shoes from the bootmakers and saddlery on site," Jones and Woff said in a written statement.
Some finds are oddly familiar.
A ceramic roasting dish found at a former home behind the hotel has a pattern still featured in crockery sold today. That same design dates back to 1790.
Below: a gallery of artifacts uncovered during the dig
Archeologists also found a handful of dominoes, including one made of hand-carved bone and wood likely made some time in the early to mid-1800s.
Other pieces are striking because they are so unique.
Archeologists have found about 80 per cent of a stunning vase depicting a figure from the Americas.
"It would likely have been one of a set of four, with the others showing Asia, Europe and Africa," Jones and Woff said.
"These continents were known as the four quadrants of the world before the discovery of Australia."
The team has also found about 75 per cent of a second vase depicting Europe, though it is far more fragmented than its counterpart.
Woff said it was unclear where the vases were made but that the team hoped to find out once catalogueing was completed.
That could take some time.
"As the artefacts are recovered, we are entering them into an inventory database, which contains basic information," Woff and Jones said.
"The more detailed cataloguing and analysis of the site has not yet begun, this process will commence after the excavations are complete."
Bendigo residents will get a chance to see many of the significant items in a display at a date that is still to be confirmed.
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The story is the latest in the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series entitled 'WHAT HAPPENED'? The Weekly would like to thank Development Victoria and the Bendigo Historical Society's Jim Evans for their help and insights.
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