Category Archives: goldrush fashion

Animals on the Goldfields

During Ballarat’s gold rushes, there were many animals – both native and introduced – living on the diggings. Some were of great use to the miners and their families as a source of transport or food, while others were security guards, working animals and even served as hot water bottles. Many native animals were just living their lives but when gold mining changed their habitat, they had to relocate to different parts of Victoria as the risk of becoming extinct was high. Let’s explore the roles they played and the lives they would have led back then.

definitions

possum

Rugs made from possum-skins like this one would keep people very warm during a cold Ballarat winter. The Wadawurrung people made these to sell to the miners, who paid a lot of money for such soft and life-saving rugs.

The Wadawurrung people encouraged certain native animals across this region for thousands of years before the arrival of the European squatters and then gold miners in the 1800s. Animals such as brushtail possums, eels and grey kangaroos were plentiful around Ballarat because traditional Wadawurrung landscape management took care of them by making sure their sources of food were in rich supply. This meant that when people wanted to make use of these animals for food or clothing, they could easily be located and collected. However, enough of each species was always left alive at the end of a hunt to ensure people living in this area could keep eating and using products from these animals long into the future.

After 1835, European farmers (known as squatters) brought introduced animals such as sheep, cows, goats, and horses to what we now call the State of Victoria. The introduction of these animals (mainly sheep) and the use of European farming practices changed the landscape in terms of the kinds of plants and trees that covered it. As a result, the habitats for native animals were affected. While some native species survived, others became locally extinct (like quolls, bandicoots and bustards [also known as bush turkeys]) because Europeans ate them in unsustainable numbers, or the introduced animals seized their ecological niche. This means that today there is a mix of native and introduced species wherever you go in Australia, from kookaburras to sparrows in the sky, wombats to foxes on land, and blue-ringed octopuses to European green shore crabs in our oceans.

We had kangaroo-soup, roasted [wild] turkey well stuffed, a boiled leg of mutton, a parrot-pie, potatoes, and green peas; next, a plum pudding and strawberry-tart, with plenty of cream. Katherine Kirkland (who lived in Trawalla – 40kms west of Ballarat), Life in the Bush. By a Lady, 1845, p.23.

mutton.png

Here is one of our Education Officers taking visiting students to the Butcher’s Shamble, where miners could buy mutton (this mutton however, is made of plastic).

The gold rushes began in 1851 and brought hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world to the shores of Victoria. Many of these new migrants transported yet more animals with them. Dogs were particularly useful companion animals on the diggings because they could keep you warm at night and guard your tent/hut while you were goldmining. For this reason, there are many dogs featured in the sketches of ST Gill, one of the most famous goldrush artists. Some animals were even introduced from the late 1850s onward to help Europeans ease their homesickness! Songbirds like sparrows, starlings and blackbirds were thought to make the Australian bush sound more like England.

horse

The most useful of horse breeds on the diggings were draft horses, also known as Clydesdales – these are the biggest and strongest type of horse.

Horses were also in high demand during the early years of the gold rushes (before the need for steam-powered machines increased), as all mining work relied on muscle power. As a horse can typically push/pull the same load as ten people, they were used to lift heavy metal buckets of dirt, rocks and gold from below ground in the first few years of the gold rushes. Likewise, horses could be attached to machines that were used to free gold from paydirt and quartz rock, for example, puddling machines and Chilean mills.  People and goods could also move around by horse (or sometimes bullock). They were attached to coaches or other vehicles to transport larger groups of people and/or numerous goods. Cobb & Co built a coach, which was a bit like a modern bus, called the ‘Leviathan’ (a word meaning big monster). This vehicle could carry up to 60 people from Ballarat to Geelong with the help of 16 horses, but it did not prove very successful.

soap

Sheep fat was commonly used to make soap for washing clothes and bodies. Candles could also be made from animal fat.

Many animals were also brought by the new arrivals for food. Goats and cows were milked to produce dairy products to feed miners and their families, while chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were farmed for eggs and their meat. However, the meat that was most commonly eaten on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s was mutton (old sheep). You can see many animals around Sovereign Hill which represent the animals that were brought here by goldrush migrants. During a visit, you might even spy our museum cat ‘Fergus’ who helps to keep the mice and rats away from the outdoor museum.

Some animals also toured the Victorian goldfields as entertainment – read about the visits from a tiger, an elephant and two zebras that came to Ballarat in the 1850s here.

corset

Even 19th century ladies’ underwear, like this corset, were often made using animal products – the tough ribbing was typically made of baleen whale teeth, while the smooth lining was made by silk worms (the caterpillar of the silk moth).

Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, perhaps you could take photos to write a story book about the many animals that miners would have encountered on the diggings – from native animals to domesticated pets and animals that produce food.

Links and References

An ABC Education ‘digibook’ featuring Bruce Pascoe talking about traditional Aboriginal land management: http://education.abc.net.au/home#!/digibook/3122184/bruce-pascoe-aboriginal-agriculture-technology-an

An ecological niche explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIVixvcR4Jc

A brief history of Victoria: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2017/05/18/the-history-of-victoria/

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans in Australia ate native foods to survive: https://cass.anu.edu.au/news/parrot-pie-and-possum-curry-how-colonial-australians-embraced-native-food

SBS Gold on Australia’s introduced species: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=130

A fact sheet on invasive species in Australia: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/2bf26cd3-1462-4b9a-a0cc-e72842815b99/files/invasive.pdf

The introduction of rabbits in Australia explained by the National Museum Australia: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/rabbits-introduced

A blogpost exploring what was commonly eaten by goldrush immigrants: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/11/30/how-to-cook-a-gold-rush-feast/

An online version of Katherine Kirkland’s book Life in the Bush. By a Lady, published in 1845: https://tinyurl.com/yxavj9fh

Information on animals introduced to Australia to make European settlers less homesick: http://myplace.edu.au/decades_timeline/1860/decade_landing_14.html?tabRank=4&subTabRank=3

A blogpost on mid-19th century transport: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/06/25/1850s-transport/

A great Gold Museum blogpost about dogs on the Victorian diggings: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/canine-companions/

More information about the Leviathan coach: https://blog.qm.qld.gov.au/2017/09/13/how-big-was-the-leviathan-monster-coach/

lollies

In the 1850s, animals were even used to create the red colour of raspberry drops. The cochineal beetle from Brazil was dried and ground-up to make red dye. But don’t worry, no living things are harmed in the making of Sovereign Hill’s lollies.

 

1850s Fashions in Australia

At the beginning of the Victorian gold rushes in 1851, most of the people searching for the valuable yellow metal were male and dressed suitably for the tough camping and working conditions experienced on the goldfields. As it was dusty in summer and muddy in winter, a miner needed long leather boots to protect him from the mud, a broad-brimmed hat (usually made of felt) to keep the sun or rain out of his eyes, a comfortable cotton shirt, and a waistcoat. Here is a description of winter on the Ballarat goldfields:

This was called Gravel Pit Lead, but might with more propriety have been called Mud Hole; for a more astonishing scene of mud, muddy water, muddy diggers, muddy tools, and clay trodden into the most vilely adhesive filth, it is impossible to conceive. In fact, Ballarat in winter is unquestionably the most dirty place, the most perfect Serbonian Bog, on earth …- William Howitt Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria, Longmans, London, 1855, p.380

guerard

Typical Ballarat clothing in the early 1850s – note the long leather boots. Eugène von Guérard, Blackhill 21 Febrav [February] 1854, Reproduced with permission from the State Library of Victoria.

Capture

Gold Museum Curator, Snjez Cosic, modelling a fine example of 1850s fashion made recently by the Sovereign Hill Costume Department. Reproduced with permission from Jade Smithard, Mojo Photography.

It didn’t take long, however, for the wealth from gold to start attracting women and families to the diggings. As living conditions improved and permanent houses were built by the mid-1850s, the trendiest fashions from England, France and the USA began to grace the (still rather muddy) streets. It was no wonder – Ballarat had become one of the richest places in the world by this time, and the fashions sported by residents reflected this new wealth.

While crinolines and corsets, top hats and bling were all the rage, these flashy fashions, much like many today, were about communicating your social class (or status) in society – meaning they showed others how important you were. While the poor (and there were plenty of people at this time who weren’t reaping the rewards of the gold rushes) wore whatever clothing they could patch together, the rich were enjoying fancy fabrics, new dye colours thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and expensive accessories. Fashion brand names weren’t really invented yet, so instead of showing off your money by displaying an expensive brand across your chest like many people do today, you paraded around in lace, silk ribbons, tall hats and elaborate gold jewellery to show off. It will be no surprise that large pieces of gold jewellery were all the rage in Ballarat in the 1850s.

bling

Brooches made of Ballarat gold. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

At this time in history, cotton fabric was quite cheap to buy for sewing into dresses and shirts, because the plants that produce it were mostly being planted and harvested by African slaves in the USA. As cotton plantation (farm) owners didn’t pay their workers, this very cheap material was transported all over the world and was affordable to everyone; it was turning it from cloth to clothing that cost a lot of money (paid to a tailor/seamstress) or time (for the hardworking housewife). Poorer women made their own clothes by hand (until the sewing machine became widely accessible in Australia in the early 1860s), while wealthy women had their clothes tailor-made.

crinoline

An example of a crinoline created by the Sovereign Hill Costume Department. Underneath you can see the model’s pantalettes (undies!) and chemise (like a long singlet).

It might surprise you to learn that few people owned wardrobes until recent times, as even the cheapest clothing was still very expensive by today’s standards, which meant that during the gold rush each person only owned a couple of outfits. Clothes are so cheap today in comparison that Australians buy 27kg of new clothes on average per year, making us the second largest consumer of textiles in the world!

Interestingly, the bell-shaped crinoline underskirt which is probably the most well-known fashion of the mid-1800s was viewed by many women of the time as a liberating garment because they could walk more easily than beforehand when they had worn many layers of skirts to make the same shape. While some cartoonists saw the funny side of crinolines which many called ‘crinoline mania’, wearing one could be dangerous as they caught fire easily. Corsets were dangerous, too, when worn very tight – most women wore them like bras are worn today, while the rich and fashion-conscious sometimes wore them so tight they broke ribs and moved vital organs. The Victorian dress reform movement saw women encouraging other women to give up dangerous and uncomfortable clothing from the 1850s onwards, and this was thought by many to represent the first wave of feminism.

 

1850-g-cruikshank-crinoline-parody

‘A Splendid Spread’, a cartoon about crinolines by George Cruikshank, from The Comic Almanack, 1850. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

For men who had already found their fortunes on the goldfields, the wearing of white shirts, tall top hats and swinging about a fancy cane showed off their status, along with sporting beautiful fob or pocket watches. If your great-grandfather handed down his watch through your family, it is likely it was his most valuable and treasured possession, although by the late 1800s they became much cheaper thanks to the Industrial Revolution.

wadawurrung

This is a goldrush sketch of a Wadawurrung girl from Ballarat wearing a warm possum-skin cloak – the pelts of brushtail possums are warmer than wool and are waterproof. William Strutt, Waran-drenin, 1852. Reproduced with permission from the British Museum.

Australian-specific clothing became available from the 1850s onwards due to the special furs of our native animals. Warm brushtail possum pelts (the fur with the skin [leather] still attached) sewn together and turned into rugs which were supplied by local Aboriginal people, were useful for keeping miners alive during a Ballarat winter in a tent. As platypus pelts were fashioned into expensive jackets and rugs for the wealthy, it’s no wonder that platypus are so rarely seen in the wild these days.

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association has many pieces of clothing and jewellery in our collection of artefacts from the 1800s; however, they are mostly the fanciest items that people treasured, rather than everyday items. That’s why Eliza Perrin’s dress is a particularly special piece in our collection – watch a video about it in Chapter 6 of our ABC Education ‘digibook’ here. You can also learn about the popularisation of white wedding dresses here, fashionable 1850s hair dos here, how the Sovereign Hill Costume Department researches and makes our 1850s clothing here, the differences between clothing now and 19th century clothing here, and typical children’s clothing from the goldfields era here.

 

 

ladies

Ruffles, ribbons, fringes and extra details on outfits showed off one’s wealth in the late 1850s. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum (these Ballarat women are unidentified).

Links and References

A brief history of the ‘rush’ to Ballarat: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-lifeonthegoldfields-notes-ss1.pdf

Wikipedia on crinolines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crinoline

A Gold Museum blogpost about another interesting dress in our collection: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/a-victorian-dress/

Wikipedia on corsets: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corset

The history of men’s white shirts: https://theconversation.com/the-story-of-the-mens-white-shirt-26312

BTN on the amount of modern clothing Australians waste: http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s4663466.htm

A platypus fur cape in the National Gallery of Victoria collection: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/fashion-detective/