Weird and wonderful goldfields history. Part 2

 Weird People

Diver_smallIn this blog we continue our research behind the weird and wonderful activities created for our school holiday program. The last blog focussed on our animal stories, this post is about the people of the goldfields and the weird but true stories of their lives on the Ballarat goldfields.

The Deep Sea Diver

Actual diver

Sovereign Hill’s diver ready for action

Why would there be a deep sea diver walking around a goldfield over 100km from the coast?  The story behind this event is incredibly sad.  On the 12th of December 1882, the New Australasian Mine at Creswick was involved in the worst gold mining disaster in Australian history to this day.  On that day a huge amount of water broke through into the number 2 drive from old workings.  41 men were working underground at that time, 27 were trapped by the water, and 22 would lose their lives before a successful rescue could be coordinated.  In response to a telegram, the Minister for Mines sent up a fast train; on board were four divers from the HMVS Cerberus, bringing with them the hope that they could take air to the trapped miners.  This hope was misplaced.  The divers arrived at 6.00am in the morning, but the pipe sent with them measured only 100 feet.  At least 1500 feet was required!  As well, the apparatus which had been sent was not powerful enough to pump the air 2000ft along the shaft.  More calls were put out for help, and a second train, loaded with equipment, broke all records from Melbourne to Creswick.  Imagine the dismay when the rescuers found that the lengths of hose which had been sent only measured about 300 feet – still nowhere near long enough to reach the trapped men!  The last straw came when the divers, still trying to be of some assistance, put on their gear, only to find that the suits supplied were the wrong size!  Had the right length of hose (There wasn’t enough hose in the entire colony anyway!), and correct equipment been sent with the divers in the first place, it was believed that a precious twenty-four hours would have been gained, and possibly more lives saved.  The story of the

Workers explaining to diver, and visitors, the problem with the hose

Workers explaining to diver, and visitors, the problem with the hose

divers and their ill-fated attempts to assist and even save the situation epitomises both the poor organisation surrounding the event, and the extent to which this muddling deeply affected the tragic outcome, still recognised as the worst gold mining disaster in Australia’s history.  Visitors to Sovereign Hill can also experience the story of the Creswick mining disaster through an interactive mine experience titled “Trapped“. You can read more about this disaster on TROVE. You can also listen to the story on TeacherTube, there are two links, above ground and underground.

Diggers dressed as women??

For diggers who sometimes had no money to buy a license, avoiding the troopers and their “license hunts” became a priority.  One case that we have decided to highlight is from W.B. Withers’ “History of Ballarat”.  Mr R. M. Serjeant tells the story of his mate who finds a way of fooling the troopers.  Remember that only men needed a licence to be on the goldfields, and read on…

…On returning home one afternoon we found our gully (Specimen Gully) surrounded by the force on the hunt for licences.  I noticed our sod chimney smoking, and the hut door – an old flour sack stretched on a frame of wattle sapling – wide open, so I concluded Joe, our cooking mate, was about, and could not very well escape two of the police who were marching straight into the doorway.  I had approached to within a few yards of the scene, license paper in hand, when the traps stepped back, as I thought, rather hastily, and to my surprise, were confronted on the threshhold by a smart, genteel-looking female, who politely enquired their business, and the next moment, espying me close in the rear, said – “Perhaps my brother can answer your enquiries, gentlemen!”  The gentlemen, however, who were not among the rudest of their class, begged their pardon, and turned on their heels in search of more easy

prey, while I proceeded to introduce myself to my newly-found sister, whom I then saw throwing up her heels and cutting most unladylike capers round the dining table.  In the course of the evening Joe intimated that as he had resolved never to take out a license, he should, if we had no objection, to continue to wear his new style of attire, and that in future his name was to be Josephine.

Our staff member Wes, hoping the troopers are gentlemen today.

Our staff member Wes, hoping the troopers are gentlemen today.

We found this story so amusing, we have re-created it for the school holiday program.  However our digger does get arrested… at this stage… maybe we will re-write the script for that activity.  What do you think?  Should we let our digger escape the long arm of the law?  Leave us a comment and let us know what you think should happen.

If these stories interest you, we found a few more that we haven’t used as activities, yet. There is the story of the roads to the diggings, Professor Dean’s balloon flop, Buninyong Bushrangers, Christmas sports and the boy who found a huge nugget. Hopefully we can find the time to elaborate on these stories of goldfields life in the future, but for now you can click on the links and start your own research.

SH_goldfields_book_web-243x300The inspiration for these stories came to us from a wonderful book by one of our favourite authors, Doug Bradby. The book is “The Seriously Weird History of the Goldfields”. It is part of Doug’s “Seriously Weird” series of books, which cover democracy, the ancient world and the history of Australia. We highly recommend these books, either in the classroom or just as a great read for history buffs like us. If you would like to read more about the series, read our previous post.

Don’t forget to read about our weird animal stories. Do have any stories to share, or questions about our blogs? Please leave a comment and we will get back to you.

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