Category Archives: History Teaching

The Environmental Impact of the Gold Rush

If we compare our environmental footprint to that of those who lived here during the gold rush, it’s easy to think they were gentler on the environment than us. During the 1850s the vast majority of people travelled about on foot, while modern Ballarat is a city of cars. Most of the food they ate was produced locally and organically (using human or animal excrement as fertiliser…) while we eat food with huge food miles, the production of which relies on intensive farming practices. During the recent drought most locals still showered every day, which would have been unheard of in the 1850s; bathing only occurred once a week -if that!- in Victorian times, as clean water was scarce and taking your clothes off regularly to bathe was considered indecent. Life was simple and more environmentally harmonious before the Industrial Revolution got into full swing here in Australia, right?

Let’s look at the evidence.

Environmental change began in Ballarat when squatters established sheep runs across Victoria after 1836. The millions of sheep which fed on Victoria’s lush natural grasslands during this time not only destroyed much of those grasslands, they also caused the near-extinction of the Myrniong Daisy – the staple plant food of the local Aboriginal people. The Myrniong, which has an edible, nutritious tuber all but vanished within three years following the introduction of sheep.

The second wave of environmental change in Ballarat occurred as a result of the discovery of gold in 1851. According to research undertaken by Dr Fred Cahir, the early miners knew their work to be “the great despoiler of nature” (Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870, 2012, p.118). During the time when surface (alluvial) gold was easy to find, Ballarat was quite literally turned upside down by the diggers. In addition to this, waterways quickly became polluted by the mining itself and by the miners living nearby. Trees were cut down to house and warm the miners, but also to use as timber in the mines.

William Howitt wrote that “The diggers seem to have two especial [sic] propensities, those of firing guns and felling trees. It is amazing what a number of trees they fell.” (Land, Labour and Gold, 1855, p.176-7).

In 1852 the artist Eugène von Guérard, wrote:

Just a year since my arrival at Ballarat, and how changed it all is in that short time. Stretches of fine forest transformed into desolate-looking bare spaces, worked over and abandoned. In many parts, where a year ago all was life and activity, there now is a scene of desolation. At the same time the population has enormously increased, and there is less and less chance of having a lucky find… (Smith, Documents on Art and Taste in Australia: The Colonial Period 1770-1914, 1975, p. 119).

Ballarat Flat from the Black Hill - 1857Ballarat’s forests, soil composition, waterways, and air quality were all profoundly impacted by the post-1851 population boom and the mining practices of these immigrants. Further evidence of this can be seen in the two drawings by Samuel Thomas Gill. “Ballarat Flat from the Black Hill” shows a vast, largely treeless plain with only small tufts of grass between the mounds of unearthed clay. The purpose-built cart in the background of “The Splitters” suggests the considerable size of the timber industry by 1864.Splitters 

The photo “Black Hill and Railway” by Charles Bayliss shows Ballarat’s light-coloured clay which is here excavated and piled up in enormous mounds which loom over the centre of the city.  

 Black hill and Railway - 1874

The Black Hill area was the only site in Ballarat where open-cut mining was practiced. Although not visible in this image, the principle waterway in Ballarat, the Yarrowee River, runs along the bottom of this clay moonscape and was used for steam production and washing (to separate gold from soil) by the Black Hill Quartz Mining Company pictured on the far right. Fortunately, Black Hill has now been completely reforested by trees which hide much of its ugly upturned history. Similarly, the photo “Llanberis Mine” shows a damaged landscape, silted water (on the left) and air pollution resulting from the introduction of largely wood-fuelled steam boilers which powered the mines from the 1860s onwards. In the steam powered stamper batteries, quartz rock was crushed into powder to extract the gold. This process not only consumed a lot of trees and water, it also utilised dangerous chemicals like mercury and cyanide which no doubt lingered in the landscape for a long time.

Llanberis Mine, Ballarat - 1906

The city of Ballarat was built as a direct result of this environmental damage, but to a degree the wounds on the landscape have healed. Trees in backyards and public parks have brought wildlife back to the city, and the Yarrowee River now has a great walking track along it which takes people past lovely bush areas and relics from our mining history. The people of the Ballarat gold rush left a much more visible mark on the environment than us, but are we really doing a better job at caring for nature? What will be written about our treatment of the environment in 150 years?

Links:
Cahir, Fred. Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870, ANU Press, 2012, http://bit.ly/1pK0Ies

Goodman, David. Gold Seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, Allen and Unwin, 1994, http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/9718935

Howitt, William. Land, Labour and Gold, Cambridge University Press, 1855, http://goo.gl/UmMvAU

Smith, Bernard. Documents on Art and Taste in Australia: The Colonial Period 1770-1914, Oxford University Press, 1975.

On the Myrniong Daisy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microseris_lanceolata 

On the Myrniong Daisy – http://www.bundianway.com.au/yamfields.htm 

Eugène von Guérard, Warrenheip Hills near Ballarat 1854, oil on canvas on plywood, 46.0 x 75.5 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-03/eugene-von-guerard-warrenheip-hills-near-ballarat/2702474

A similar blog on the environmental impact of gold – http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=124

The Goldfields Police

This post was inspired by an inquiry from a Year 9 student. Thank you Arron.

The origins of public policing

Propelled by the discovery of gold, the nature of policing in Victoria changed dramatically during the 1850s. These changes aimed to develop a united professional police force, based on a model of civil policing introduced in Britain by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.

The introduction of Peel’s model of civil policing in Britain in 1829 is now seen as a great leap forward in law and order. At the time, Peel’s model was controversial because it took the responsibility of policing away from local control and placed it in the hands of the government. The British public feared a police force used by the government to keep itself in power.

London Police Uniform 1829

London Police Uniform 1829

To help people accept this new form of policing, Peel’s model had several developments. These included police having no weapons except a concealed club and a rattle to attract attention; not accepting men of military rank or influence within the Government; and applying methods of crime prevention, rather than punishment. Police were assigned to a particular district, which was then divided into beats. A policeman would get to know his beat, and this would help him detect crime. Regulations and manuals regarding civil policing duties were also published.  The distinctive police uniform functioned to make people aware of the police presence and minimise accusations of police acting as spies.    Police were also ordered to be civil towards all members of the public. This civility extended to the point of accepting ridicule without any argument. You can read more about the development of Peel’s police here.

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Alcohol on the Goldfields

Where and what did diggers drink?

This blog was inspired by a speech given by our CEO, Dr Jeremy Johnson in April 2010 at  the University of Ballarat Beer Awards. The speech was based on research done by Sovereign Hill’s Senior Historian, Dr Jan Croggon. The speech was recorded and an audio file is available at the end of this blog.

The problem of alcohol and young men

Diggers of low degree, S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

“Diggers of low degree”, S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

The colonial government of Victoria was incredibly worried about alcohol on the goldfields. The population of Victoria before 1860 was mainly young men, and the authorities were concerned that over indulgence in alcohol could lead to a breakdown in law and order in the colony. For that reason an act was passed to prohibit alcohol from being sold on the goldfields. This act allowed for harsh penalties if you were caught manufacturing or selling liquor.  A first offence carried a £50 fine, whereas threatening with a pistol might only incur a fine of £5. The Act was policed by plain clothes men, who were given half of the £50 fine for a first offence, and then, because a second offence brought months of hard labour, and no profit for the police, they resorted to blackmail, taking £5 whenever they felt like it.

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Books for Teaching History – The Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat. The History of a Ballarat Engineering Company.

The Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat. The History of a Ballarat Engineering Company. By  Bob BUTRIMS & Dave MACARTNEY.

Here at Sovereign Hill we are in an enviable position as we are able  to portray the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Australia. Our museum contains the best collection of working steam engines in Victoria on permanent public display. Because of this we have developed several online education resources and face to face programs designed to support  teachers and students studying this period of Australian history. We are continually searching for more material to help our understandings of this subject.  Recently we discovered a new book focusing on Phoenix foundry bookone of the key foundries which grew from the gold rush period of Ballarat’s history. Marion Littlejohn, one of our Education Officers, has reviewed this book, which we feel would be a useful addition to any year 9 reference library for Depth Study 1 – the Industrial Revolution.

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The Walk from Robe: Retracing the Chinese Journey to the Goldfields

From Left; Oscar Zhang, Charles Zhang and Bill Moy From the CACSB

From Left; Oscar Zhang, Charles Zhang and Bill Moy From the CACSB standing in front of the Chinese Temple at Sovereign Hill

On the 15th of December 2013, Charles Zhang and his son Oscar will begin to retrace the footsteps of the Chinese prospectors, who travelled from Robe in South Australia to the Victorian Goldfields. The re-enactment is planned to take 15 days, with Charles and Oscar travelling approximately 35 kilometres per day. Before they leave Ballarat on their way to Robe, Charles, Oscar and Bill Moy visited the Chinese Temple at Sovereign Hill to ask for permission and good fortune from their ancestors during their adventure. Their walk from Robe to Ballarat will also end at Sovereign Hill on Saturday the 28th of December. Charles Oscar and Bill are all members of the Chinese Australian Cultural Society of Ballarat (CACSB). Interestingly they represent different generations of Chinese immigrating to Ballarat. Bill’s Ancestors came to Ballarat during the Gold Rush. Charles and Oscar represent more recent arrivals to our city.

The Aim of the walk is to follow the route taken by the Chinese miners. Oscar and Charles will commemorate the contribution made by the Chinese gold diggers on the Central Victoria Goldfields, while promoting rural Australian towns and cities.

Pot for Incense burning with Jade talismans and a coin given to Charles with links to the Avoca Goldfileds. These will be carried on the journey.

Pot for Incense burning with Jade talismans and a coin given to Charles with links to the Avoca Goldfileds. These will be carried on the journey.

Regular details, stories & photos will be posted on the Chinese Australian Cultural Society Ballarat website: www.chineseballarat.org.au and Ballarat Community Radio Station 99.9 Voice FM: www.voicefm.com.au. We will also attempt to keep this post updated with information about the progress of the walk.

Chinese coin from Avoca

Chinese coin from Avoca

So keep coming back to follow our intrepid adventurers on their special voyage.

**Historical Note**

The Chinese were forced to travel overland from South Australia, due to an immigration tax imposed on them by the Victorian Colonial Government. The Government were concerned by the numbers of Chinese travelling to the goldfields, and tried using taxes to stop immigration from China. You can read more about this at Heritage Australia and our previous blog: Racism and Taxes: Life for the Chinese on the Goldfields

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Indigenous Stories of the Goldfields

Exploration/Law and Order

This Blog may contain images and names of deceased people, it may also contain words and descriptive terms that may be offensive to Indigenous Australians.

Bushmans Hut by S. T. Gill.

Bushmans Hut by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection.

Often the perceptions that are held of Aboriginal people during the Gold Rush period of Australian history were that; Aboriginal people were marginalised and only involved on the periphery of mining areas, that they did not understand what was happening and, the experience of Aboriginal people was very negative. Now a new book is casting a whole different perspective on Aboriginal involvement in Goldfields history. “Black Gold” by Dr Fred Cahir of the University of Ballarat provides a wider view of the contributions made by Aboriginal people during the Gold Rush era of Australian history. Dr Cahir gives specific examples to show the contribution to goldfields life by Aboriginal people, in exploration, and Law and Order in Goldfields society. Continue reading

Goldfields Medicine: Part 2

Apothecaries: medicines and food

Interior of Apothecary at Sovereign Hill. Gold Museum Collection

Interior of Apothecary at Sovereign Hill. Gold Museum Collection

In a previous post we talked about doctors on the goldfields, and the early hospitals in Ballarat. But there were many other medical people on the goldfields. Among them were the Apothecaries, who could make up medicines, from the ingredients available at the time. Most of these ingredients were based on plant and animal extracts, and could also be used as foodstuffs. Their role is now mainly performed by Pharmacists, but an Apothecary did so much more. They also performed surgery, midwifery and gave medical advice. In this Blog we will explore the secretive world of the Apothecary, and how they contributed to the lives of people on the goldfields and the wider world.

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