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In late 1859 gold was discovered in the Warburton area, at Britannia Creek west of Warburton and at Scotchman's and Yankee Jim's Creeks. A settlement called Yankee Jim's (named after a gold discoverer), was formed on the creek. When an important lead was found in 1863 the name was changed to Warburton, after Police Magistrate Charles Warburton Carr.


As the gold began to run out mines moved northwards to the Yarra River flats and a new Warburton was formed. It was named Upper Warburton to distinguish it from Old Warburton on Yankee Jim's Creek. In 1871 the first freehold land was taken up in the Warburton area, and in 1875 a school was opened.

On 19 October 1888, the Upper Yarra shire of 911 sq km was proclaimed with Warburton as the administrative centre. In 1890 a Methodist church was built in Warburton. In 1894 the Warburton Village Settlement west of Warburton, was established. It consisted of numerous small farms, inspired by the Anglican Reverend Horace Tucker who persuaded the Government to pass a Village Settlement Act. The settlement became Wesburn.


In 1901 when the population of Warburton was 195 the railway line from Lilydale to Warburton was opened. Prior to then the transport had been packhorse and coach, sufficient for the carriage of gold and supplies but not for timber. The railway to Warburton opened as a branch line from Lilydale. Its main purpose was for timber haulage from the forests in the Yarra Ranges as well as the movement of general freight and passengers to the many small townships along the line.


The railway connection opened Warburton Valley up to tourism.  Honeymooners and holidaymakers flocked to the region. A guesthouse once advertised it as "1000 feet above worry level". The 1905 "Picturesque Victoria" published by the Victorian Railways emphasised the local scenery and the numerous excursions to waterfalls and views from Warburton.


Establishing a new printing plant in the small township of Warburton brought with it many workers and their families, who soon formed the Warburton church in 1906, established a school and in following years developed a hospital and health-care centre, a Sanitarium Health Food factory and more recently an aged-care hostel. With such a concentration of institutions, Warburton grew to be a major centre for Adventism in the South Pacific. The present Sanitarium (1938) and Signs buildings (1935) are heritage-registered.



In 1912 a bridle track to the Mount Donna Buang snow resort was opened and widened to 2 metres in 1924 by the Ski Club of Victoria. By the mid-1920s 12 hotels and guest houses were in Warburton, including the ‘Mountain Grand’ of 50 rooms offering the best wines and cigars as well as petrol for motorists. Hire car services were also available, and a trout hatchery restocked the streams with fish. Accommodation reached new heights in 1927 with the opening of The Chalet, with space for 280 guests. In the 1930s and 1940s the town became Victoria’s ‘Honeymoon Capital’.


Easy access to timber helped miners shore up their mines and, when gold ran out, the forests provided the next industry. By the First World War, and into the 1920s, there were more than 60 timber mills around the town and 320 miles (500km) of tramways. Steam and diesel engines were used to power the sawmills and haul the logs. In some cases the logs were lifted by cable and pulley high above the ground to carry them to mills and railheads. In more remote areas, horses were used to pull empty bogies up graded lines. When loaded with logs, the bogies would run downhill under the control of braking systems. Today, timber still provides employment and revenue, but on a much reduced scale.


In 1954 Warburton was honoured by a visit from the Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. They arrived by Royal Train, spent the night at the Chalet on the O'Shannassy water reserve and worshipped in St. Andrew's Presbyterian church.


‘Warburton’, Victorian Places, 2014, accessed on 6/3/2023

Further reading:

Back to Warburton souvenir booklet, 1950

Earle Parkinson, Warburton ways, the author, 1993

M.J. McCarthy, Mountains of ash: a history of the sawmills and tramways of Warburton and district, Melbourne, 2001

Lachlan Fraser, Warburton walk, Warburton, 1997


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