The Inverlochy Castle Hotel in Wallan,Victoria was once an epicentre full of activity; a popular meeting point for local residents and a resting place for travellers and their horses as they journeyed to and from Melbourne. It functioned both as a hotel and as a Cobb & Co. staging post; a convenient stopping point both on the goldfields route and the Melbourne to Sydney route.1
But today, few people would give the remaining bluestone and tin shed ruins located in a paddock off the entrance road to Wallan a second thought except perhaps an avid photographer eager for a photo – a field of Canola making the perfect backdrop.
A historical assessment undertaken by Mitchell Shire council in 20142 states:
“This site comprises the ruins of Inverlochy Castle Hotel and iron sheds and timber stock-run. The key components of the site include bluestone walls, a red-brick scatter, a 10m mound, trough, corrugate iron shearing shed, domestic artefact scatter, water tank, and a red brick-lined well full filled with old and more recent debris.”
The ravages of time and circumstance have not been kind to what was once a vibrant and thriving Hotel. With the introduction of railways lines and as horses made way to cars and trains, the Inverlochy Castle Hotel is quickly becoming a fading memory of the past. As Wallan transitions from a country town into a rural suburb of Melbourne, it is only a matter of time before the sparse agricultural land is swallowed up by houses and the hotel’s significance to the region is lost.
The birth of a Hotel
The 1850’s in Victoria was a time for progress, new opportunity and growth. A gentleman by the name of Angus Cameron purchased lot 32 in Wallan and subsequently built and opened the Inverlochy Castle Hotel in 1850.3 The building was partly of stone with a shingle roof later covered with iron.4
There were no other hotels in the Wallan area at the time (the next recorded hotel in Wallan was the Strangeways Hotel built in May 1854), so it would seem that Angus had seized a business opportunity with little to no competition at the time.
Cameron is a typical Scottish surname. It would seem likely that the inspiration for the name of the hotel came from from paying homage to a ruined 13th century Castle bearing the same name near Inverlochy and Fort William in Highland, Scotland.
For a person so significant in the history of the Inverlochy Caste Hotel, Angus Cameron is somewhat of an enigma. An Angus Cameron is listed as a licencee of the following hotels5:
- Cricketer’s Arms – 255 Punt Road, Richmond
- Bricklayer’s Arms – 484 Church Street, Richmond
The below Notice of Indenture on January 29th, 1855 lists Angus Cameron as a licensed Victualler and of the Sydney Road.
And his estate adjoining a farm for sale is described as ‘well-known’:
In early March, 1855 the first advertisements for the sale of Inverlochy Castle Hotel as part of Angus Cameron’s estate began to appear in the Newspaper. Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria does not have any records between 1850 and 1860 which coincide with this. Could it have been that the estate was sold as a result of Angus’ insolvency instead of his death?
The advertisements for the sale of the hotel provide important details on the hotel, noteably the following:
- First rate business.
- 13-14 rooms.
- Wooden premises.
- Particularly well furnished.
- 75 feet, 9 inches frontage.
- 39 feet, 9 inches depth.
- 10-stall stable. 50 feet by 18 feet with a loft above.
- A well of spring water.
- Situated on 88 acres of land.
The advertisements were placed regularly from February 1855 until September 1855 and it is evident from their frequency that selling the hotel took some time to accomplish.
Little information is known about the early years of the Inverlochy Castle Hotel apart from Angus Cameron’s association with it. The only other details that can be garnered is that that the hotel was an agent for the Kilmore Standard of Freedom newspaper. The newspaper was delivered and available for purchase either inside the hotel or at a stand outside; most likely on the verandah.
The hotel was eventually sold in December 1858 when it was purchased by John Laffan who was born in 1826 in Templemore, Tipperary in Ireland. The Wallan district was first settled by Scottish, English and Irish settlers in the 1840’s and by the 1850’s had a strong Irish community, many also hailing from Tipperary in Ireland.
John left Ireland due to the Great Potato Famine and came to Australia to seek a better life. He sailed to Australia on “The Queen of the South” with his 2 brothers and Johanna Shanahan, who was to become his first wife. They came to Victoria in 1852 and were married in 1853 at St Francis Church in Melbourne. John and Johanna subsequently had a son James Michael (born in 1854) and a daughter Bridget Teresa (born in 1855). John worked as a carrier on the goldfields in Bendigo for a period, and in 1858 came to Wallan.6
Whilst Census numbers in 1861 listed the population of Wallan as only 122, business boomed for the Hotel. Four hundred people alone were said to have hurried to the Reedy Creek diggings in 1858. Gold was even unearthed in Kilmore, as well as Reedy Creek (1858 to 1890s), Strath Creek and Parrot Creek, all of which are located just to the north west of Wandong. In 1866, the lucrative Sunday Creek gold (approximately nine miles south east of Kilmore) was found.7 Kilmore, Wallan and other small towns became nearly overrun with miners, storekeepers and a plethora of other people as they sought their way to the gold fields along the old Sydney Road.8 The hotel’s main source of income was from the numerous travelers along the thoroughfare between Melbourne and Sydney.
The hotel quickly became a regular place for meetings and gatherings and was often referred to as “Laffan’s Inverlochy Hotel”.
But the constant activity and resultant success of the hotel did not come without a toll. In December 1862, at the age of 29 Johanna passed away after being overrun from exhaustion.9 Now with a hotel to run and 2 children below the age of 10 it was only natural in those days for John to find a new partner who could help care for his children and himself and to assist with the running of the hotel. And so it was in 1866 that John took his second wife, Esther Mccagh, originally from Cavan in Ireland. With her assistance the success and popularity of the hotel continued.
Cobb & Co. Staging Post
There are multiple references to the Inverlochy Castle Hotel being used as a staging post for Cobb & Co. coaches. Cobb & Co. was established in Melbourne in 1853 at the height of the excitement created by the Victorian goldrushes. The first Cobb & Co. route was the short trip between Melbourne and Port Melbourne in 1853 but quickly expanded and operated daily services to country Victorian towns.
It is speculated that the Inverlochy Castle Hotel was first used by Cobb & Co. coaches in the late 1850’s which appears to be validated by an extract from the book The tale of a century : Kilmore, 1837-1937 – Comp. for the Citizens’ Committee by J. A. Maher:
“On 22nd December, 1857, Watson and Hewitt, then proprietors of Cobb and Co. lines, sold the Ballarat road rights to Frank B. Clapp, and started to Beechworth. This was the first appearance of Cobb and Co. coaches on the Sydney Road.”
Inverlochy Castle Hotel was near the Cobb & Co. 28 Mile Post on Sydney Road and coaches leaving Melbourne had their second change at the hotel. The Laffans knew when the coaches would be arriving and had the best horses prepared and ready to change over. The horses were owned by Laffans and would be brought out of the ‘spell’ paddock and saddled prior to the arrival of the coach. The changed over stage coach horses would then be left to ‘spell’ in the paddocks for a week at a time.10
For stage coaches arriving later in the day the Inverlochy Castle Hotel was the ideal place to obtain refreshments and overnight accommodation prior to the steep ascent of Pretty Sally Hill . Compelled by a warm fireside, cosy bed and substantial meal, it was difficult to resist.
In Part II: Inverlochy Castle Hotel – Life at the Hotel we learn what daily life was like at the hotel and some of the recreational activities that occured.
, , ,  Kilmore‐ Wallan Bypass Historical Assessment. Heritage Victoria Report 4066 – November 2012
 The Kilmore Free Press – 26th September 1907
,  Pretty Sally’s Hill: A History of Wallan, Wandong and Bylands – JW Payne.(1981)
 Robert K. Cole Index of Victorian hotels, 1841-1949
 Des and Barbara Laffin – Verbal conversation at Wallan in September 2019
 ]Margaret Lloyd – Phone conversation in November 2019.