George and Martha Clendinning were prominent Ballarat citizens and pioneers. Born in Ireland, they emigrated to Australia in the early 1850s, being shipwrecked near Geelong on their arrival. 

The men, as was usual, made up a party and went to the diggings, leaving the ladies in the city. Martha and her sister in law decided that they would like to join their husbands. They determined to open a store on the diggings in Ballarat, so they got some stores together, hired a cart and set out for the Ballarat Diggings in 1853.

The ride out of Melbourne was bumpy, the ladies being hoisted up on the cart for the journey, so much so, that Martha declared that she would sooner walk all the way than endure the jostling and jolting. This she did and was known as the ‘lady that walked to Ballarat’.

The women had quite a successful store during the early days on Ballarat. Martha continued to run the general store by herself, with her small daughter Margaret, moving it from Brown Hill to Golden Point to Mount Pleasant following the itinerant gold miners. She recalls one incident in her journal when her husband, who was a doctor, had been called out to a patient late one night, and two men approached the store and asked for supplies of flour. She pretended her husband was asleep in bed, calling out to him, and asked the two prospective customers to come back in the morning. She was quite surprised when they left and even more surprised when they returned the next morning to get the flour they wanted late the night before. It was then that she decided it was a little dangerous for a woman to be alone in such circumstances and unbefitting for a doctor’s wife to be seen working in such a way, so eventually George and Martha built a cottage ‘fit for a doctor and his wife’. They lived in Humffray Street, Ballarat East for many years.

Being ardent Church of England followers they belonged to St Paul’s. Martha describes one of the first church services at Bakery Hill in 1853, pondering the purpose of the boughs of gum leaves near the altar. She soon learnt that these were to swat the masses of flies that swarmed into the building in hot weather!

George Clendinning, a doctor in the early days of Ballarat, set up a practice and hospital with Dr Heisse at Red Hill.  He was the coroner in 1865 and on many committees. Martha Clendinning was on the committee that established the first female refuge in Ballarat. Through their endeavours they helped to establish many of the charities still in existence today.

There are some more vivid accounts of Doctor Clendinning in the publication Reminiscences of the Ballarat Goldfield by J Graham Smith compiled by Cordell Kent from the Gold Shop, Lydiard Street North, Ballarat.

Dr George Clendinning