Category Archives: history teaching resources

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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Eureka Rebellion – what we can and can’t ever know

Browning

George Browning, Eureka Stockade, 1854, 1985-9. The City of Ballarat Historical Collection, reproduced with permission from The City of Ballarat. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

There are many parts of the Eureka Rebellion (also known as the Eureka Stockade) story that we know are historical facts, but there are many other parts that will forever remain uncertain, and even unknowable. This should not stop us from being curious about this interesting and important event in Australian history, as history is full of uncertainties. Sometimes these can be solved by more research, or even new ways of collecting and examining evidence, but sometimes they have to remain a mystery. The history you learn in the school subject often called History or Humanities is driven by the curiosity of academic historians, and their job is tell the truest version of our history. This can change over time when new evidence is found, or when evidence is interpreted from a new perspective.

Ultimately, stretching our critical and creative thinking muscles is really important in the study of history.

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So, what can we know about the Eureka Rebellion?

Historians know for a fact that this famous Australian event occurred on Sunday, 3 December 1854. How is this knowable? Historians can find lots of primary source evidence that was written by people who experienced the Eureka Stockade Battle and all claim the event happened on this day. Here are two examples (1, 2) of such primary sources that corroborate (which means agree with each other) to tell us that the date this event happened was indeed Sunday, 3 December 1854.

Here is another: In his famous book about his experience of the Eureka Stockade Battle, Raffaello Carboni wrote in Chapter 1:

‘Brave comrades in arms who fell on that disgraced Sabbath morning, December 3rd’.

Doudiet

Charles Doudiet, Eureka Slaughter 3rd December, 1854. Ballarat Fine Art Gallery Collection. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

When historians can agree on something like a date, we can be very confident that such a detail is an historical fact. In the same way, we can know for a fact that it was a fight between Redcoat soldiers and a group of (mostly European) goldminers, and that people on both sides died on the day of the battle.

What is currently unknowable about the Eureka Rebellion?

Gilson2

Aunty Marlene Gilson, Surviving on the Goldfields, 2014. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum – The Sovereign Hill Museums Association. Aunty Marlene paints Wadawurrung oral histories to document her ancestors’ experiences of 19th century life. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

There are some parts of the story that historians do not agree on, and they probably never will. These are uncertainties, or things we cannot currently know based on the available historical evidence. For example, there is a debate about exactly where the Eureka Stockade Battle took place, and just how many people died as a result of it. There are questions around the role of women and children in the days leading up to, and during, the fight itself. A Wadawurrung oral history that has been passed down from generation to generation also exists. It describes Europeans running to the Aboriginal camp near the stockade to keep safe during the fighting – you can learn more about this here. While there is some evidence to support all of these aspects of the Eureka Rebellion story, we cannot be completely confident that these stories are true, and we may never be able to know for sure. And that is okay – we should still learn about them as possible truths about this historical event.

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Samuel Huyghue, Plan of the Eureka Stockade attack by the military on 03 December 1854, 1854. Reproduced with permission from Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

All historical stories contain facts and uncertainties; we simply have to keep our versions of the story honest by stating which parts we can know, and which parts are currently unknowable. For example, in our popular Education Session for visiting students called Put Yourself in the Eureka Story (during which the whole class dresses up as characters who played a role in the Eureka Stockade Battle), we say ‘about 30 people died’ when talking about the battle death toll (the number of people killed) because we will never know for sure. Some reasons why we will never know exactly how many people died during the Eureka Stockade Battle are:

  • There is no police report from after the battle stating exactly how many dead bodies were found on the battlefield that day, and newspaper reports and books written by witnesses claim different death tolls. Also, due to the complicated politics linked to this event, the government of the time may have wanted to make the death toll look small, while the miners may have wanted the death toll to look large – this may explain why different primary source documents describe different numbers in their death tolls. You can view the list of people whom Peter Lalor believed were killed in the Eureka Stockade Battle here. However, Captain Thomas, leader of the Redcoat soldiers who fought in Ballarat, reported a different death toll:

‘The number of the killed and wounded on the side of the insurgents was great, but I have no means of ascertaining it correctly; I have reason however to believe that there were not less than thirty killed on the spot, and I know that many have since died of their wounds. Amongst these, and the persons in custody, several leaders of the insurrection appear, two of whom lie dangerously, if not mortally wounded, in hotels near the spot.’

  • Many of the miners who survived the battle went into hiding immediately afterwards to avoid being arrested by the police. During their many months in hiding, some may have died from their battle injuries. However, as they were on the run from the law, it is likely their deaths were never reported to the authorities.
  • Medicine in the 19th century was not as advanced or informed as it is now – you could die from an infected scratch (because we didn’t know about germs, let alone antiseptics or antibiotics, in the 1850s). As a result, there may have been people who died from their battle injuries a whole year after 3 December 1854, and these deaths were probably not added to the official count of people killed as a result of the Eureka Stockade Battle.
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The original Eureka Flag, on display at the Eureka Centre in Ballarat. Reproduced with permission from the City of Ballarat Historical Collection. Photo credit: Tony Evans Photography.

There are also historical uncertainties surrounding the most famous Eureka Rebellion artefact – the Eureka Flag. While recent scientific study of the flag has helped us better understand what the flag is made of, we will never know exactly who made it. For example, there is a popular children’s book called ‘The Night We Made The Flag: A Eureka Story’ by Carole Wilkinson, in which the stars of this famous flag are described as being made from a girl’s nightdress. However, since this book was published, museum conservators have undertaken some study of the flag stars to reveal they are made from a wool fabric, which 19th century fashion experts tell us was not the kind of material used to make nightdresses. Before this research was undertaken, the stars were believed to be made of a fine cotton linen, from which nightdresses were commonly made at this time in history. The blue part of the flag used to be thought of as wool, but this new research tells us it is mostly cotton. This demonstrates how important it is to keep our minds open as to how the flag was made; the nightdress explanation was just a theory which has now evolved and been made less certain thanks to this new research.

Until new evidence or new ways of undertaking research come to light, many aspects of the Eureka Rebellion story have to remain unknowable. What other historical events or characters have question marks hanging over them?

Links and References

Some older Sovereign Hill Education blogposts on the causes of the Eureka Rebellion:

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/10/22/why-do-i-have-to-learn-about-the-goldrush/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/17/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/06/19/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade-part-2/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/02/27/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade-part-3/

Behind The News (BTN) on the Ballarat gold rush and Eureka Rebellion:

http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s3900125.htm

A video entitled ‘Eureka Stockade: Riot or Revolution’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kry-xiVYMJc

The State Library of Victoria blogpost on the Eureka Stockade: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/impact-society/eureka-stockade

The State Library of New South Wales on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/eureka-rush-gold/rush-victoria

The National Museum of Australia on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/defining_moments/featured/eureka_stockade

No matter how the Eureka Stockade is represented, there will always be people who critique its interpretation: https://www.theage.com.au/national/the-eureka-myth-20041023-gdyus1.html

How to encourage critical thinking in History: https://sheg.stanford.edu/history-lessons

Five ways to improve your critical thinking:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dItUGF8GdTw