Yearly Archives: 2014

It’s beach time!

As this blog already contains several posts about the history of Christmas, this festive season we have decided to explore the history of beach holidays!

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An early bathing machine.

Bathing in the ocean became popular in Europe in the 1700s, before Australia was colonised by Britain. Both immersing yourself in the water and drinking sea water were considered to cure all kinds of illnesses. As a result, many of Europe’s rich and powerful would spend a “season” at the seaside, bathing most days using a bathing machine. Believe it or not, winter was considered the best time to do this.

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Ladies “Bathing Dress”- 1858, from the magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

A bathing machine was a hut on wheels in which people changed into their swim suits. This carriage-type contraption was then pushed into the water (using man power, horse power or sometimes even steam power) so the bather could step out and immediately lower themselves into the water. Some bathing machines had tents that would extend out and enable bathers to enter the water in complete privacy, while some came with “dippers” or “bathers”. These were attendants of the same sex as the bather who would dunk you underwater the correct number of times to cure whatever illness you had been diagnosed with.

Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert believed that sea bathing was beneficial to one’s health, and in 1846 he had a bathing machine installed on the beach near their summer palace on the Isle of Wight. Victoria and her daughters regularly used the bathing box to enjoy the water. The queen’s bathing box, used to preserve her modesty, is now fully restored and on public view.

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Queen Victoria’s bathing machine has a veranda at the front where curtains concealed her from view whilst she bathed. Inside is a changing room and a plumbed-in toilet. The whole contraption was run into the sea from the beach along a long ramp, and pulled back using a wire rope and winch!

By the 1850s, when gold was discovered here in Ballarat, dippers had gone out of fashion. However, people continued to visit the seaside especially after train travel made reaching the beach cheap and convenient.  Some historians think that the main motivation now was pleasure and holiday making although many people still believed a visit to the seaside was good for your health. By this time people were going to the beach during summer rather than winter.

Bathing soon became popular here in Australia although in some parts of the country it was banned during daylight hours up until 1902 because a wet woman in a swim suit was considered an indecent sight. Furthermore, some men were said to enjoy swimming naked, so you definitely couldn’t do that in public.

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St Kilda Esplanade, main beach (1864).

The St Kilda Sea Baths were opened in 1860 to take advantage of the popular seaside excursion trend. These enclosed sea baths were thought to keep bathers safe from Australia’s scariest sea creatures. However, even before the baths were built, St Kilda was a popular swimming spot. In the 1840s it already had bathing boxes (bathing machines with their wheels taken off), and by 1854 Captain Kenney had deliberately sunk a ship just off the beach and put out ropes to it for people to swim along. Once the St Kilda train station was opened in 1857 more sea baths opened and regular swimming competitions were held. As businesses, the baths were not the financial success the owners hoped as the majority of visitors to St Kilda soon became confident to swim in open water.

Since these humble beginnings, going to the beach has now become a normal part of Australian life. Most Australians live on or near the coast, and some of our beaches like Bells in Torquay, Bondi in Sydney and the Gold Coast near Brisbane are considered to be among the best in the world. Interestingly, having tanned skin was avoided by European women during the nineteenth century, as it showed you were poor and had to work outdoors like a peasant.

Like swimming, the history of swimwear is also fascinating, read all about it here. Enjoy the summer sun and happy holidays!

Links and References

The history of sea bathing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_bathing

19th century bathing history: http://consideringausten.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/so-you-want-to-go-swimming-in-regency-england/

18th and 19th century bathing history: http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/04/15/victorian-prudes-beachside-bathing-machines/

History of St Kilda Baths, Melbourne: http://www.stkildaseabaths.com.au/history

History of sun tanning: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/tale-of-tanning

Ten 1850s Inventions and Innovations

Some very weird and wonderful things were created during the Industrial Revolution (c. 1750-1900) and the 1850s in particular – the same decade that Ballarat’s gold rush got underway – saw some fascinating inventions and innovations.

ss great eastern

Brunel’s SS Great Eastern with its sails and steam-powered water wheel. This photo was taken in New York Harbour, 1860.

Seafaring Inventions

SS Great Eastern (ship) – Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an incredible engineer and designer during the early 1800s. He was a pioneer of steam-powered travel, and the SS Great Eastern was his third iron-hulled, steam-powered sailing ship (it had sails to use the wind and a steam engine when it was calm). This “Great Babe” as he called it, was specifically designed to bring travellers from the UK to Australia – 4,000 at a time to be exact – without needing to stop and refuel anywhere along the way. This was the largest ship in the world when it was launched in 1858, but sadly it suffered damage on its first journey south. Find out more about this amazing man and his remarkable feats of engineering here.

sub armour

Phillips’ Submarine Exploring Armour, 1856.

Submarine Exploring Armour – Lots of submarine designs had been tested out since as early as 1580, but even in the 1850s they weren’t being taken too seriously. An American shoemaker named Lodner D. Phillips, patented (a design that is licensed for production and sale by one person or company) a submarine propeller design in 1852 which allowed his home-made subs to go down to 30 metres. Phillips also patented something much more interesting in 1856: submarine exploring armour. Little is known about the success of this invention; no one appears to have actually worn one to explore the deep.

a-7095-atl (1)

Whalers hunting sperm whale (prized for the huge amounts of oil found in its head called “spermaceti”- used by these deep diving animals for sonar communication). Date: 1847 By: Illustrated London News (Newspaper); Duncan, Edward, 1803-1882. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

Electric Whaling Apparatus – Hunting whales was big business during the 1800s; while the majority of Australian whaling was concentrated in Tasmania and New South Wales during the 1850s, Portland in southern Victoria produced tonnes of whale oil, meat and bone. Whale products were used to fuel street lamps, light train carriages, make corsets and beauty products, and provide protein in people’s diets. Even a type of whale pooh was prized – for perfume manufacture would you believe! In 1852 two German men decided to improve whale hunting technology by electrifying the whale harpoon (spear); once the harpoon pierced the skin of the whale, the animal would receive 8 electric shocks, which were guaranteed to kill it… Find out more about this invention here.

Domestic Technologies

Dishwasher – The first dishwasher was patented in the US in 1850 by Joel Houghton. It was a wooden machine with a hand-powered wheel that splashed water on dishes. It barely cleaned anything but it was a starting point for the design of the electric dishwasher.

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Advert for the Singer Manufacturing Company.

Sewing Machine – Many people had tried to design a machine that could sew clothing, shoes etc. but none of the designs before the 1850s were particularly popular, practical or affordable. That was until Isaac Merritt Singer came along, combined earlier designs and lodged a patent for his foot-powered machine in 1851. “Singer did not invent any notable sewing-machine advances, but he did pioneer the hire-purchase system and aggressive sales tactics” (International Sewing Machine Collectors Society website).  This eventually quite radically changed how people made their own clothes. Clothes that had traditionally been made (mostly by women) by hand, could now be completed in a fraction of the time, and this brought down the price of clothes and allowed the average person to own a greater variety of outfits and keep up with fashion trends. Apparently, “a sewing machine could produce a man’s shirt in about one hour, compared to 14 ½ hours by hand” (Draznin, Victorian London’s Middle-Class Housewife: What She Did All Day, pp. 66–68). Singer had some legal trouble with previous sewing machine designers, but as he streamlined earlier designs, he is often credited with designing the machine that people still use in homes and factories today.

The Zip – Sick of dealing with slow and annoying buttons, cords and ribbons to do up your clothes? Elias Howe Jr. was, so he invented the first zipper-style clothing and boot fasteners. Patented in 1851, his “Fastening for Garments”, was described as an “automatic, continuous clothing closure”, but it didn’t really work very well. Howe got distracted by sewing machine designs, and another attempt at making a zipper wasn’t made until 42 years later.

Washing Machine – While the wash board had been invented in 1797, 1851 was the year the first drum (big bucket) washing machine was patented. An American by the name of James King set out the design groundwork for the modern washing machine; however his 1851 version was hand-powered. There were a few steam-powered washing machines being used in the UK and US during the 1850s, but they were huge and only affordable to big clothing factories and hotels.  The invention of the electric washing machine changed the world.

irons

Two charcoal irons from the Sovereign Hill collection.

Charcoal Iron – Before the electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley, people relied on fires to heat up their irons to then press their clothes. The charcoal iron was patented in 1852, and unlike the simple flatirons (which you placed on your stove to heat up) in common usage before its creation, its base is a container to hold hot charcoal. Interestingly, at this time some irons were fuelled with whale oil or kerosene! The charcoal iron was considered a better option than most on the market as it stayed hot for a long time (and wasn’t fuelled by a flammable substance!).

Medical “Advances”

Scarificator – This odd blood-letting device used by doctors to cure all kinds of illnesses, was already in existence in the early 1800s, but it was refined and improved by Frederick Leypoldt in 1851. Interestingly, Leypoldt was not a doctor, but thought that making a scarificator smaller was worth patenting.  Find out more about this curious medical practice here.

Sometimes small, local inventions save lives

bal bucket

The Ballarat Hook.

Ballarat Hook – Many of the miners who came to the Ballarat goldfields were middle-class, well-educated men. When they realised that having a heavy bucket of rocks and mud (and hopefully gold) swinging above your head on a flimsy “S” hook while you stand at the bottom of a mineshaft was a little scary, they developed a solution to this potential disaster. The Ballarat Hook keeps you safe below while still allowing you to easily release the bucket at the end of the day to take it home for safekeeping.

Links and References

The Industrial Revolution and the history of human energy use – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM1IyIyr-Zc&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtNjasccl-WajpONGX3zoY4M

Who was I. K. Brunel? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/famouspeople/isambard_kingdom_brunel/,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel

On submarines – http://www.submarine-history.com/NOVAone.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine

The history of sewing machines: http://ismacs.net/sewing_machine_history.html

The history of washing machines – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_machine

Everyone wants a washing machine because they are magical – http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine

The history of irons – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothes_iron

Strange medicine – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting

Draznin, Yaffa Claire. Victorian London’s Middle-Class Housewife: What She Did All Day (#179), Contributions in Women’s Studies Journal, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001, pp. 66–68.

Collectors of the Nineteenth Century

In Victorian times, collecting was all the rage. People collected many different things such as butterflies, stamps, shells, stones, weapons, and even human bones. Some were motivated to collect in the name of science, while others filled their parlours with “curiosities” just for the fun of it. While some of these 19th century collectors and their collections have helped us better understand nature and the many different cultures around the world, collecting may have sometimes caused more harm than good.

gorilla

Zoologist and taxidermist Araham Dee Bartlett with his first gorilla (pickled…!), collected by Dr. Du Chaillu for Professor Owen, British Museum, 1861.

One fascinating Victorian collector was the explorer Paul Du Chaillu. He was the first European to see (and later kill) a live gorilla while he was travelling around Africa from 1856 to 1859. Until the 1860s, Europeans thought gorillas were mythical creatures. Their bones had been collected and studied in the late 1840s, but pickled (eew!) and stuffed examples of them weren’t brought back to Europe until the 1860s! Only then did people believe that these large, hairy Great Apes really existed.

Collectors have taught us much about the world. Probably the most famous collector of all was Charles Darwin, who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection (he published his famous book on this topic, On the Origin of Species, in 1859). In the 1830s Darwin sailed around the world for five years collecting many different kinds of plants and animals. This helped him develop his world-changing idea that successful animals adapt to suit their environment. While he brought many dead and preserved specimens back to England, he also collected live animals including giant Galapagos tortoises. Many people believe that Harriet, a tortoise at Australia Zoo which died in 2006 at the age of 176, was originally collected by Darwin.Tortoise

Darwin was one of many famous collectors who popularised collecting as a hobby, and by the 1850s it was a very fashionable pastime for a gentleman. Here on the Ballarat goldfields there were many men who collected minerals (stones), bird eggs, postcards, weapons made by the local Aboriginal people (the Wathaurong), and animals which would commonly be preserved using the technique of taxidermy (stuffing them). Sadly, there is even evidence that at least one collector in Western Victoria dug up bodies of Aboriginal people to take their skulls (Griffiths, Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia, p.28-9).

The bones of such “exotic” people would be sent to places like the British Museum to be studied and displayed. At the time this was seen as scientific inquiry but today the practise is illegal and recognised as being totally inappropriate and insensitive to the families and descendants of those deceased people. Fortunately, human remains from many countries which were sent to European museums and universities in the 19th century have now been respectfully returned to their communities of origin. The remains of Truganini, mistakenly believed to be the last Tasmanian Aboriginal person, were finally returned from the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 2002, 130 years after they were sent away from her homeland.

Mermaid

Feejee Mermaid Year: 1842. Con artist: P.T. Barnum.

Sometimes people would try to use their collections to make money, and this often caused more creative collectors to invent curious creatures and artefacts. A good example of this is the Feejee Mermaid, which was exhibited from 1842 until the 1860s in P. T. Barnam’s world-famous circus. Another example was a petrified wooden carving of a head that claimed to have been discovered in a gold mine at Creswick, 12kms north of Ballarat in 1855. This was revealed to be a hoax after some initial excitement about what it meant for understanding Australia’s history of human habitation (Griffiths, Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia, p.35).

Human zoo

An advertisement for a human zoo in Stuttgart, Germany, 1928.

Perhaps the most dark and worrying aspect of collecting were zoos which displayed humans. Cities such as London, New York, Paris, Milan and Barcelona all had zoos containing “exotic” peoples by the 1870s.

While the word ‘scientist’ only came into use in 1834, the 19th century was an exciting time for science and discovery; fossils of dinosaurs and mammoths were being unearthed as were the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and millions of people were moving from one country to another – by choice – for the first time in history. While many people still collect all kinds of weird and wonderful things today like Barbie dolls, rare books and beautiful antiques, we are much more careful about the kinds of things we collect and the way we collect them. Check out some of the fascinating collections preserved by The Gold Museum here.

Links and References:

On gorillas – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Du_Chaillu

About Charles Darwin and his work – http://darwin200.christs.cam.ac.uk/pages/index.php?page_id=jb

Harriet the Giant Galapagos Tortoise – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_(tortoise)

Museum of things Queen Victoria and Prince Albert collected – http://www.vam.ac.uk/

The return of Truganini’s remains – http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/05/28/1022569769905.html

The Feejee Mermaid – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._T._Barnum

Another fake mermaid – http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/fake-mermaid-photograph/

Human zoos – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_zoo

History of the word “scientist” – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127037417

Gold Museum collections – http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/about-our-collections/

On creepy Victorian mummy unwrapping parties (‘Egyptomania’) – http://neovictorianparlour.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/victorian-mummy-unwrapping-parties.html

Griffiths, Tom. Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

The Environmental Impacts 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. Much of the food they ate was produced locally (mutton) and organically (using human or animal excrement as fertiliser on vegetable gardens) while we eat food with huge food miles, the production of which relies on intensive farming practices. Today, most Australians shower 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 often scarce. 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 1835. 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 - 1857

S.T. Gill, Ballarat Flat from the Black Hill, 1857, Gold Museum Collection.

Ballarat’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

S.T. Gill, Splitters, 1864, Gold Museum Collection.

The photo “Black Hill and Railway” by William Bardwell 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

W. Bardwell, Black Hill and Railway, 1874, Gold Museum Collection.

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

Llanberis Mine, Ballarat, 1906, Gold Museum Collection.

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 and References:
Cahir, Fred. Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870, ANU Press, 2012: https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/aboriginal-history-monographs/black-gold

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

Goldfields Immigration 3

The Irish influence on Ballarat

Gentlemen and savages – Men of Ballarat and fellows of Bungaree” These were just some of the inflaming words spoken by the controversial Victorian politician C. E. Jones, at a political meeting in Ballarat, 1864. Jones was attempting to trade on the popular Old World idea of the Irish as lower-caste, illiterate and priest-ridden trouble makers who were intent on lowering the standards of this new society in Ballarat. In fact these ideas about the Irish presence in Ballarat were completely inaccurate.

The Irish were the second largest national group (the largest being the English), to influence the history of Australia during the gold rush and colonial periods. From 1851 to 1901 the percentage of the population considering themselves Irish remained at around 20%. Most of these immigrants came from the southwest counties of Clare, Tipperary, and Galway.

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Goldfields Immigration: Part 2

The Jewish contribution to Ballarat’s History

Ballarat Synagogue, cnr Princes & Barkly Streets, Ballarat. Gold Museum Collection.

Ballarat Synagogue, cnr Princes & Barkly Streets, Ballarat. Gold Museum Collection.

“Hidden away in plain view”, that is how many people describe the location of the Ballarat Synagogue. On the main tourist route from Melbourne to Sovereign Hill, a large stone structure on a bend of road near the East Ballarat Fire Station, hints at a connection to a Jewish community in Ballarat. In fact there have been people of the Jewish faith involved actively in Ballarat’s history from the beginning of European settlement here.

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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 London by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.

The introduction of Peel’s model of civil policing 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; trying not to accept 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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