Household Arts of the 1850’s: A personal experience

Woman of the Hill

Ever wondered what it would be like to have lived during the 19th Century? Would you like to experience it for yourself? Well you don’t have to, because we have someone to do it for you. Jenni Fithall is a volunteer at Sovereign Hill Museum, Ballarat. She belongs to the “Friends of Sovereign Hill” (FOSH), a group that helps to bring the Museum to life for visitors.

Sovereign Hill Volunteer Jenni Fithall, who will be living in one of our cottages for 3 days in March 2013

Sovereign Hill Volunteer Jenni Fithall, who will be living in one of our cottages for 3 days in March 2013

Jenni has decided to try living in one of the cottages on Speedwell St for two nights and three days in March. Our Education Officers recently interviewed Jenni, to find out how she felt about her upcoming adventure.

Sovereign Hill

What do you hope to achieve?


I want to experience what it really would be like to be a woman of the mid 19th century. I want to know how they coped with life. As a volunteer I spend about 5 hours in a cottage, once a week or thereabouts, cooking and talking with visitors, but I know that isn’t realistic as to just how hard and full on a day actually would have been. I may live to eat my words but I think I will rise to the challenge of living in that way. I hope to show that a 21st century woman like me can cope just as well as our predecessors.

Sovereign Hill

What do you expect to be doing?


Normal day-to-day living. Cooking, cleaning, being self-sufficient and making do with what I’ve got. The plan is to do most of the cooking on day one including making bread and maybe butter, washing day 2 and ironing day 3, as well as all the other chores a woman would be expected to do on a day-to-day basis.

Sovereign Hill

What do you hope will be the good part of this experience?


The whole experience for starters. I think it will give me even more empathy toward my ancestors and what they went through. I will enjoy how good the food will taste after being cooked on an open fire and I’m really looking forward to living by candlelight at night time although I am sure I will be hitting the sack reasonably early by the end of day 2.

Sovereign Hill

It’s more that they lived frugally?


I don’t like frugal, but I like the simplicity and physicality of life in the old days. For example, I like the thought of going to bed when the sun sets (though definitely not the getting up when the chooks get up) as well as the romance of candlelight and things like that. It’s a better atmosphere.

Sovereign Hill

What do you think will be challenging?


I think it’s going to be a bit of a slog, getting everything done, keeping a fire going all the time. I’m worried I’ll sleep too well and the fire will go out and that the wood will be damp making the fire difficult to restart. Making starch from potato scraps and stuff like that could be difficult as will the sewing/repairing clothes bit as I am not that way inclined. The big challenge will be not just coping but thriving without electricity. I will have to cope with knowing that I can’t just go home after a day of “dress ups” and have a soak in the spa, but make do, splashing a bit of hot water around in a tub for my wash, and instead of having a choice of what to eat, I will have limited produce.

Sovereign Hill

Are you happy for School kids and the other visitors to come and see you?


Yes, I would love everyone to visit me. Drop in any time, but remember I only have a small cottage and can only fit 4 or 5 visitors at a time. And I expect presents (she says with a grin).

What kind of pressys? Lollies, flowers and encouragement will all be appreciated thank you.  Just joking about the lollies and flowers but encouragement would be good.

Chambers CottageWe wish Jenni all the best in this adventure, and if you happen to be visiting Sovereign Hill during her stay on 19, 20 and 21st of March, feel free to stop in and say hello, as she has said, she will appreciate small groups and lots of encouragement.

If you would like your students to experience a little of Jenni’s experience, try our a woman’s work is never done education session.

If you want to know a little more about women in the goldfields, try this Blog on “Eliza Perrin, An ordinary woman of the goldfields” from the Gold Museum, Ballarat.

If you would like to see what Jenni went through, we have made several videos about her time at Sovereign Hill, and the links are detailed below.

Woman of the Hill part 1

Woman of the Hill part 2

Woman of the Hill part 3

Woman of the Hill making butter

Woman of the Hill, the final interview

There was so much information about this experiment, that we created a new page on our website. All the videos and links to Blogposts are here.

4 responses to “Household Arts of the 1850’s: A personal experience

  1. What a great idea! I look forward to hearing all about Jenni’s experience.

  2. Sounds like a reality TV show waiting to happen. I think i’d actually watch this one.

  3. Thanks for the comments. If you want to know a little more about women in the goldfields, try this Blog on “Eliza Perrin, An ordinary woman of the goldfields” from the Gold Museum, Ballarat

  4. Pingback: What was eaten on the Goldfields? | Sovereign Hill Education

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