Baddaginnie in Victoria: Its Sinhala Name and its History

Thiru Arumugam, courtesy of The Ceylankan, vol 77, Jan 2017

Introduction:  Baddaginnie (hungry belly in Sinhala) is a small village in north-east Victoria, Australia, about 180 km from Melbourne. Its population was 465 persons in the 2011 Census. This article describes how it got its name, the early history of the place, and a brief biography of the Surveyor, J G W Wilmot who gave Baddaginnie its name.

baddaginnie-4Fig 4-– Baddaginnie High Street in 1905-Museum of Victoria

John George Winchester Wilmot was born in Westmoreland (now Cumbria) in north-west England in 1830. His father was Edward Charles Wilmot and his mother was Maud Winchester. In 1843 he arrived in Port Philip, Melbourne. Since he was only 13 years old it is unlikely that he travelled alone. It is possible that he travelled with a relation, Sir John Eardley-Wilmot and his sons. Sir John also arrived in 1843 to take up duties as Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, present day Tasmania. A year later the travel bug had bitten Wilmot again and he travelled to Ceylon at the age of 14 years. [Fig 1 is a photo of Wilmot in middle age.=NOT ACCESSIBLE]

Robert John Wilmot was born in 1784. He married an heiress, Anne Beatrix Horton, in 1806 and a condition of his father-in-law’s will was that he would have to add Horton to his surname to inherit his dowry and so he became Sir Robert John Wilmot-Horton and in 1831 he was appointed the sixth Governor of Ceylon. He continued as Governor of Ceylon until 1837. He implemented the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron Commission, formed the first Legislative Council, abolished Rajakariya, started the first newspaper (Colombo Journal) and started the public school, the Colombo Academy. His name lives on in Horton Plains and Horton Place.

Wilmot in Ceylon: Governor Wilmot-Horton and J G W Wilmot were related, but the exact relationship has not been determined despite the best efforts of their descendants. JGWW was probably the Governor’s grand-nephew, but there is also the possibility that he was an illegitimate grandson. The Governor had finished his spell in Ceylon and returned to England before JGWW left for Australia, and no doubt told him stories about the fortune to be made planting the new crop of coffee in Ceylon. And so we find that in 1844 the 14 year old JGWW sailing for Ceylon from Australia to seek his fortune in the ‘coffee rush’ in Ceylon, where a few years later Ceylon was among the top three coffee producers in the world, along with Brazil and Indonesia.

At about this time the Ceylon Government sold about 300,000 acres of upcountry forested areas to British coffee Planters for the nominal amount of about a Pound an acre. The first task of the Planters was to clear the forest and survey the land allotment. Wilmot got interested in this job of Surveying and over the years he became quite skilled at it. It seems likely that he worked in the Dimbulla area. In 1852, after eight years in Ceylon, Wilmot must have heard about the mini gold rush in Victoria so he decided to return to Victoria to try his luck as a gold digger.

Wilmot returns to Australia: Gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851 and a rush of gold diggers and prospectors soon started. Within a few years the Victorian gold output was greater than any other source in the world at that time other than California. The major finds were around the towns of Beechworth, Ballarat and Bendigo. However within a very short while, surface alluvial gold from creeks and rivers soon ran out and gold could only be obtained by drilling and deep excavation. This meant that individual prospectors with their pans were soon out of business and gold mining was carried out by firms with the required resources.

Wilmot tried his luck as a prospector with limited success and in 1855 he gave up prospecting and accepted the post of District Surveyor in Benalla, a town about 110 km south-west of Wodonga and nearly 200 km north-east of Melbourne. One of his early assignments was to survey the land for a new township about 12 km south-west of Benalla. To carry out the survey in 1857 he needed a team of survey labourers and for this purpose he recruited locally a group of Ceylonese who were unemployed and broke. They were probably sailors who had jumped ship in Melbourne and joined the gold rush, but by this time surface alluvial gold had run out and they found nothing, and ran out of money for food. They had gone round the farmsteads patting their stomachs and asking for food saying ‘Baddaginnie’ and Wilmot, with his knowledge of Sinhala, had named the new township Baddaginnie, a name it retains to this day.


Fig 2 is the Wilmot’s survey plan of Baddaginnie showing the allotments. The main road from Melbourne to Sydney is shown passing through the High Street of the town. Fig 3 is an advertisement in “The Argus” newspaper, Melbourne on 04 July 1857, by the Government, for the sale of 40 half-acre lots in Baddaginnie at a price of eight Pounds an acre. Fig 4 [above]  is what the High Street of Baddaginnie looked like many years later in 1905.


Victorian place names with Ceylon connections:  As District Surveyor, Wilmot surveyed locations for several new townships and parishes and decided on their names. Place names that Wilmot gave with Ceylon connections include Dimboola (VIC 3414), a township with a present population of about 1500, it is located about 36 km north of Horsham. Wilmot surveyed it in 1862. Les Blake in “Place names of Victoria”, 1977, p. 83, suggests that it was so named after Dimbulla in Sri Lanka and because of the abundance of fig trees (Dimul). Wilmot also gave the name Gampola to a Parish that he surveyed near Borung, but this is not traceable on present day maps.

Another township that Wilmot surveyed and named is Dookie (VIC 3646), about 40 km north-west of Benalla. When surveying this area it was found that Mrs Turnbull who had lived in Ceylon and occupied the land was partially squatting on Crown land. When she was told that she would lose some of her land she said that she was filled with ‘Duka’ and Wilmot promptly named the place Dookie. Another township that Wilmot surveyed and named was Glenrowan, about 40 km north-east of Baddaginnie. This place name has no Ceylon connections but became famous as the site of the last stand of the renegade Ned Kelly on 28 June 1880. He was hanged in Melbourne on 11 November 1880.

His private life:  On 28 June 1853, soon after his return to Australia, Wilmot married Ide Fanny. The marriage lasted only three days when she deserted him. He lived a single life and commenced divorce proceedings nearly ten years later. The Bendigo Advertiser of 20 December 1862 states that the ruling of the divorce court was as follows “The Chief Justice expressed his opinion that a sufficient case had been made out for the Court to grant a divorce. It is true that the Petitioner was aware that his wife had previously lived an unchaste life before he married her, but he had a right to suppose that she would remain faithful to him as her husband. She had not done so and he was fully entitled to a divorce”. In 1867 he married Hannah Louise Whittakers and they had eight children. His eldest son Reginald was a Sports Journalist in Melbourne and is believed to have coined the term ‘body line bowling’ in the 1932/33 Ashes cricket Test series.

Wilmot resigned from public service in 1869 and started private practice, based in Melbourne. Fig 5 is an advertisement placed by him in The Australasian, Melbourne, dated 28 August 1869 in which he canvasses for private work such as surveys including contour surveys, moieties (land division), boundary disputes and valuation of property. He was successful in private practice for many years. He died on 03 August 1895 at the age of  65 years.

John Francis – the ‘Cingalese’:  At about the same time that Wilmot was surveying Baddaginnie, John Francis was possibly the first Ceylonese to start a business in Australia. He had a shop in the prestigious location of the corner of Flinders and William Streets in Melbourne. According to the Adelaide Observer of 07 November 1857, he opened a bank account in the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank and deposited 150 Pounds. He became friendly with the Bank’s Ledger Keeper, Charles William Walter Raven. It was soon found that without overdraft facilities over 3000 Pounds had been paid out in cash in instalments from this account. Raven had marked cheques of Francis as ‘alright’ and the Teller had paid out cash. To keep the account of Francis in credit, Raven credited the account with sums which were never actually paid in. When Raven’s misdemeanours were detected, he disappeared and left the country.

John Francis was tried on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the Bank. At the trial Francis said that he knew nothing about the withdrawals from his account and that it was all done by forgeries by Raven. The Adelaide Observer of 07 November 1857 stated that “The defence is a total denial of the fraud, and an allegation that if fraud has been perpetrated, it must have been by the agency of forgeries”.  Nevertheless, Francis was convicted and sentenced to a fine of 3000 Pounds, the amount of the fraud, and three months imprisonment. The imprisonment was to continue after three months, until the fine was paid. As he was unable to pay the fine, he was in jail for a long time.

A few months later, according to The Argus newspaper of 19 May 1858, the Bank filed a court case to attempt to recover 3244 Pounds from Francis. By this time, Francis had already declared himself insolvent. It transpired at the case that Raven had been tracked down in Ceylon and the Bank had paid the Police 150 Pounds to meet the cost of sending a policeman to arrest him in Ceylon and bring him to Melbourne to be tried. Raven’s trial was on 23 July 1858 and he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the Bank. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment. He was acquitted on charges of larceny and embezzlement.

Baddaginnie and the Melbourne-Sydney Railway: Baddaginnie was surveyed in 1857. In 1861 the population was 32. In 1871 a Post Office was opened and a Town Hall in 1883. Early industries were grazing, a quarry, vine growing and timber. By 1903 it had a hotel, butter factory and creamery, school and a church and the population was 276 by 1911 and the 2011 census gives the population as 465. The main factor in the growth of Baddaginnie was that the main road and railway line from Melbourne to Sydney passed through Baddaginnie and a railway station was built here.

baddaginnie_railway_station_victoria Fig 7 -Baddaginni R’way Station

When the Australian States started thinking about constructing railways, London applied pressure on all of them to use the standard gauge of 4ft 8½in. However, the States did not want to have the same gauge as a neighbouring State. The reason being that in the event of a war between States, they did not want their neighbour to be in a position to use invading rolling stock on their lines! As a result, Victoria used the broad gauge of 5ft 3in whereas New South Wales used standard gauge.

Construction of the broad gauge north-east railway line from Melbourne to Wodonga started in the late 1860s and the line from Melbourne up to Seymour was completed in 1872. The second section of the line up to Benalla, passing Baddaginnie, was completed in August 1873. The final section up to Wodonga was completed on 21 November 1873. Baddaginnie Station was completed a little later and was open for passenger traffic on 19 February 1882. A photo of Baddaginnie Station in 1905 can be seen in Fig 6. Meanwhile, New South Wales completed the railway from Sydney to Albury in 1881. Victoria completed the link between Wodonga and Albury in 1883 and from 20 August 1883 it was possible to travel all the way by train from Melbourne to Sydney and vice versa. However passengers had to get down with their luggage at Albury from the broad gauge Victorian train, go through inter-state Customs, and get into the standard gauge NSW train to Sydney. It was only in 1962 that an additional track in standard gauge was constructed in Victoria between Melbourne and Albury and it became possible to travel between Melbourne and Sydney without changing trains.

The railway station at Baddaginnie really opened up the town. The railway time table of 1905 is shown in Fig 7. It can be seen from the time table that the express trains between Melbourne and Sydney did not stop at Baddaginnie, stopping only at Benalla, 12 km away. However, the slow train between Melbourne and Sydney stopped at Baddaginnie. The express steam engine train between Melbourne and Sydney took about 19 hours and the slow train took about 24 hours. Nowadays express diesel engine trains take about 11 hours.

The drunken Station Master: The easy going life style in Baddaginnie can be seen in the incident of the drunken Station Master, Thomas Jones, which occurred on 12 March 1884 when he filed a private case for libel and slander against Rev. James Richards who had written a letter to the Minister for Railways stating that the Station Master is drunk while on duty and an accident may happen at any time. He alleged that the Station Master goes to Benalla by the last train on Saturday night and returns by the first train on Sunday morning, still inebriated. Several witnesses gave evidence, for and against, and the Judge found in favour of the defendant and ordered the Station Master to pay costs estimated at 27 Pounds.

Later when the Station Master received the bill for costs, he passed it on to the Railway Department for payment. They refused to pay stating that the Station Master must pay, who also refused to pay. The Bailiff was called in to seize assets. The Colac Herald of 23 May 1884 described the situation as follows: “The Department did not recognise the position and appointed a Board which has just reported on Mr Jones’ habits and the effect of their finding is that while Mr Jones is not always drunk (sic!), his conduct was very reprehensible and as to costs they do not entertain them. Meanwhile the Bailiff is at the Station casting a longing eye at a locomotive”!

With timber logging declining in Baddaginnie, goods traffic from the Station declined. Also with increasing motor car ownership, there are at present 1.06 cars per person over 19 years old in Baddaginnie, passenger traffic also declined. Inevitably, on 05 July 1978 Baddaginnie Railway Station was permanently closed down.


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One response to “Baddaginnie in Victoria: Its Sinhala Name and its History

  1. Vinod

    I am currently writing a biography of JGW Wilmot. There is no evidence that he was a relative of Wilmot-Horton, apart from a spoon he possessed, decorated with the Eardley-Wilmot crest. Nor is there evidence of him being born in Winton – his naming of the Victorian town may allude to his third name “Winchester”. He may have been connected to ELO Mitford of the CCS, and to JTF Bowker, Kurunegala civil engineer. Most of what we know about his early life comes from the hazy memories of his grandchildren of things he told his children.
    The evidence appears to be that he came to Sri Lanka as a crew member of the “Parkfield”. A passenger named Cargill (not the shop-owner) may have introduced him to the firm of Lambe, Rainals and Company, and he opened up estates for that firm in Beloongalle (Kadugannawa) and Hoonookotuwa (Kotmale). He appears of have learnt surveying in Sri Lanka.

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