Category Archives: History Teaching

The 1850s – Then and Now

During the Victorian goldrushes of the 19th century, people lived very different lives to those Australians lead today in the 21st century. We can understand these differences by taking a look at some examples of technologies etc. which highlight what has changed in our lives between then and now.

Do you think you could have lived in the 1850s? What listed in the ‘Now’ column couldn’t you live without today?



A meat safe (a fly-wire box which is covered with a damp cloth to keep food cool)


Electric refrigerator


Wooden, bone, paper and metal toys


Plastic toys (plastic is made from petroleum or natural gas, and wasn’t invented until the 20th century)


Humorism – the belief that illness was the result of an imbalance in the four humors (4 bodily liquids: blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile). Imbalances were thought to be caused by bad smells called ‘miasma’

Germ theory – the understanding that most illnesses are caused by microorganisms (bacteria, like viruses, fungi etc.) that spread easily if you don’t wash your hands or carefully manage sewage

A wash board and clothes mangle

A washing machine and tumble dryer

Newspaper, leaves, smooth stones or even your hand!

Toilet paper

Corset – a tight-fitting piece of structured underwear mainly worn by ladies to secure and train the torso

Bra – a complex piece of ladies’ underwear designed to support the breasts

Long-handled toasting fork – used to hold bread close to the fire to toast it

An electric toaster

Tooth powder often made of chalk, charcoal or bicarb soda – the wealthy used a brush, the poor used a finger

Tooth paste – made available once flexible metal tubes were invented in the 1890s

Pantalettes – long cotton ladies underwear that are secured with a button/ribbon

Cotton, elasticated underpants for ladies

Anaesthetics were being invented in the 1850s – before then only alcohol or cocaine were available to help with pain during surgery!

Modern anaesthetics to make either a small part or the entire body ‘fall asleep’ and not feel any pain during surgery

Phrenology – a ‘science’ that uses the shape of the skull to explain personalities and behaviours of people


Psychology – a science that seeks to explain the chemistry, thoughts and behaviours of the brain/mind


Dresses for babies and small children – including boys, who might wear a sort of dress until they were ‘breeched’ (a rite-of-passage that allows boys to start wearing pants – there’s a boy in a dress in this S. T. Gill sketch)


Jumpsuits/bodysuits for babies (also known as ‘onesies’)


Click on the S. T. Gill sketch to enlarge

Trains and boats

Aeroplanes and cars

Leeches and amputation were used to treat infections (this is a real 1850s amputation kit…)


Antibiotics are now used to treat bacterial infections (this is the structural formula of penicillin)


Flat (or ‘sad’) iron which is heated on the fire

Electric steam iron that you fill with water and plug into the electricity outlet in the wall

Newspapers, the postal service and the electric telegraph

The internet and mobile phone technology

A fob or pocket watch (a watch on a chain/necklace) powered by daily manual winding

A battery-powered wrist watch

Candles and gas lights (which were highly explosive and killed lots of people in their homes)

Electric lights

Life has changed dramatically in the last 160 years. In that time, we have popularised world-changing ideas like germ and evolutionary theory, and we invented amazing technologies like electricity, the car and the internet. How do you think it will change in the next 160 years?

Links and references

An article about the big ideas that have changed our world:

A video about the most important inventions humans have ever created:

Changes to life expectancy across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries:

The impact of the Industrial Revolution:

The way the Industrial Revolution fostered globalisation:

Costume at Sovereign Hill: The Redcoat Soldiers

When you visit Sovereign Hill, you see lots of different kinds of costumes being worn by the staff and volunteers in the streets, shops and on the diggings. All our costumes tell stories about the kind of people who were really here in Ballarat in the 1850s. Some of our most photographed costumed characters are the Redcoat Soldiers, who tell the story of the British Army’s role in 19th century Victoria.


Sovereign Hill’s daily Redcoat Soldiers parade.

Students often ask, ‘Why are they wearing bright red jackets? Soldiers today wear camouflage to hide in the bush, but a red jacket can’t hide you anywhere!’. These jackets, which are actually called coatees, were red for a number of reasons:


A diagram explaining the different parts of a Redcoat’s uniform. Click on the image to enlarge.

The Redcoat Soldiers played an important role in the Eureka Rebellion and their daily parade around Sovereign Hill is one of our most popular events. We need to keep them looking ‘spiffy‘, so our Costume Department recently began a big project to make new uniforms for our hard-working soldiers.


The two ‘tails’ on a coatee.

Every time our Costume Department makes a new outfit for one of our staff or volunteers, the team starts by doing some research. There are lots of paintings, photographs and written descriptions of the Redcoat Soldier uniforms, which help us re-create their outfits to look just like the real ones worn in the 1850s. We were very lucky in this instance to find a real 1840s-50s Redcoat coatee in the collection of a local history buff, which revealed secret pockets inside the coatee ‘tails’! We think these would have been used for storing gloves and hiding important documents. Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, ask a Redcoat soldier what he hides in his secret tail pockets.

This very old, fragile coatee also helped us understand what the lining and internal structure of the coatees should be, which not only makes them more comfortable for the people wearing them, but also makes those people look more muscular and broad-shouldered.


The internal structure of a coatee.

The coatee was designed to make the chest of the man wearing it (only men could be in the British Army in the 19th century) look like a triangle (women desired to be hour-glass shaped), and epaulettes would be attached to the shoulders to make them appear even bigger. If you were an important officer in the regiment (team of soldiers), you would have received a ‘uniform allowance’ as part of your wages which you could use to decorate your coatee further.


Left: An 1850s shako. Right: Sovereign Hill’s re-created shako.

The Sovereign Hill Costume Department have now created three different kinds of Redcoat uniforms for our daily parades: an officer’s uniform (in scarlet red), and soldiers’ uniforms and a drummer’s uniform (in madder red).  We were able to achieve the correct coatee colouring thanks to information from a uniforms supplier in England which has been making outfits for the British Army since the Battle of Waterloo – more than 200 years ago! Many details like buttons, pom-poms and embroidered trimmings for the new costumes had to be made by hand by skilled craftspeople, which took a lot of hard work to organise. Re-creating the hats – or shakos – presented one of the biggest challenges to the Costume team, but the new Redcoat costumes are nearly finished and ready for the daily parade.


Drummers wore heavily-decorated uniforms.

All of our costumes tell stories about the history of clothing dyes, innovations in sewing techniques and machines, and developments in the manufacture of textiles, as well as showcasing the fashions of the time. The popular fashions of the 1850s also tell stories about community values and ideas about masculinity and femininity. What do your clothes say about you and the community you live in?

Links and References

Read about the role of the Redcoat Soldiers in the Eureka Rebellion:

Sovereign Hill’s Redcoats firing their guns:

A wonderful V&A webpage about 19th century fashion:

Learn about ladies’ weird 1850s underpants…:

What did children wear during the gold rush?

Men’s 1850s fashion:

Women’s 1850s fashion:

The British Army during Queen Victoria’s reign:

A social story for ASD students preparing for a Sovereign Hill visit:

The arrival of the train


Ballarat West Railway Station

Ballarat West Railway Station c.1889. Image courtesy of The Gold Museum, Ballarat

Trains changed the world; however, nowadays their impact can easily be overlooked. For thousands of years before the invention of the train, people only had the help of horses and simple cart technologies to move themselves and their possessions around on land. When the train first arrived in Ballarat in 1862, the city celebrated in magnificent fashion; local people knew this technology would change our city forever. It confirmed Ballarat’s place on the map and was important in securing the city’s long-term success. As writer John Béchervaise has said ‘they were anticipating a marvellous twentieth century’ (Béchervaise, J. & Hawley, G. Ballarat Sketchbook, Rigby Limited, Melbourne, 1977, p52).

STG Main Rd

S. T. Gill’s Arrival of the Geelong Mail, Main Road Ballarat, 1855. Image courtesy of The Gold Museum, Ballarat.

Many people don’t realise that Ballarat’s CBD (central business district) hasn’t always been centred around the train station. Until 1862, the most important part of the city was along Main Road, which is where you can now find Sovereign Hill. Before the train line was built, and trains started delivering passengers and cargo from first Geelong and later Melbourne to Lydiard Street, Main Road was true to its name; it was the centre of town!

There was another reason the Ballarat CBD moved from Main Road to Lydiard Street – fire. Most of the structures built along Main Road were either wooden or canvas, and after a series of fires and the introduction of the train line, Ballaratians started building in stone around the new train station. After all, community leaders wanted to make Ballarat a more permanent, established city, and these beautiful stone buildings from the 1800s are still enjoyed by millions of tourists each year.

The City of Ballarat website has this to say about the city’s historic train station: ‘Located in the heart of Ballarat, the Ballarat Station is a gateway to the city, a CBD landmark and one of the grandest Victorian-era station buildings in the state.’

The fact that one of the first grand train stations in Victoria was built in Ballarat demonstrates the importance of this goldrush city. Ballarat’s closest port is Geelong; therefore, the first railway tracks between the two cities began construction in 1858 and the line was officially opened by Governor Barkly in 1862 to move people and cargo between the goldfields and the tall ships in Corio Bay. Interestingly, on its first journey to Ballarat, the train ran out of wood to fuel its steam engine, so the crew were forced to chop down some trees in Meredith to ensure the train made it to Ballarat. In 1889 the Melbourne-Ballarat line was opened. The station we now call ‘Ballarat’ used to be called ‘Ballarat West’ as Ballarat East had its own station which has now been demolished. The famous clock tower was added in 1891 as train travel by this time was proving extremely popular; however, as the clock itself was very expensive, it wasn’t installed until 1984!

The train’s arrival in Ballarat meant two very important things for the people of this region. It meant that individuals and businesses could receive their goods with a much cheaper delivery fee, and farmers etc. could send their produce to market much more easily. On the day the first train arrived, the train station was decorated with banners that said ‘Advance Ballarat’ and ‘Success to the Geelong-Ballarat Railway’ (Dooley, N. & King, D. The Golden Steam of Ballarat, Lowden Publishing, 1973, p4). Thousands of people gathered in Lydiard Street to welcome the train, and balls, dinners and parties were held all over the city to celebrate.


A history of Ballarat’s famous Phoenix Foundry. Find out more about this foundry and book here.

In addition to bringing the train line to the city to improve people’s lives, in 1873 Ballarat became one of the first Australian cities to manufacture trains. Ballarat’s Phoenix Foundry on Armstrong Street was the largest locomotive factory in Victoria until it ceased making engines in 1905. Businesses like the Phoenix Foundry couldn’t have existed without the railway close by.

While the train station gave Ballaratians easier access to Geelong and Melbourne, the Ballarat Train Station also provided people with access to leisure activities, like picnicking in places like Daylesford, and watching horseracing in Lal Lal. All around the station zone, city leaders have encouraged the building of what are now important Ballarat landmarks like:

To this day, the train station gives people access to all of these wonderful places in addition to important shopping areas and the Sturt Street sculpture gardens.

Trains gave Ballarat and its mines, factories and farms access to the big wide world. The locomotives that were manufactured here were a great source of pride for Ballaratians, as trains were a symbol of progress, technological skill, and serious financial investment for the city. Trains, like sailing ships in times past, and the cars and planes of today, changed our lives forever.

Links and References:

A fantastic video on the history of railroads around the world:

Some great interactive photographs of Ballarat ‘then and now’:

The Ballarat train station on Wikipedia:

Horrible Histories on transport (song):

A short history of trains and stations in Ballarat:

Bate, W. Lucky City, Melbourne University Press, 1978.

Béchervaise, J. & Hawley, G. Ballarat Sketchbook, Rigby Limited, Melbourne, 1977.

Butrims, R. & Macartney, D. Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat, Australian Railway Historical Society, 2013.

Dooley, N. & King, D. The Golden Steam of Ballarat, Lowden Publishing, 1973.

Our favourite goldrush artist – S. T. Gill

PortraitDuring a visit to Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum, it’s hard to miss the influence of goldrush artist S. T. Gill. Samuel Thomas Gill was born in England in 1818, and migrated to Australia with his family in 1839 when he was 21. He lived in South Australia where he earnt a living as an artist using his sketching skills.
In 1852 after gold was discovered, he decided to walk to the Mt Alexander diggings (near Castlemaine). Here he tried his luck as a miner, but quickly returned to sketching to make ends meet. He also spent time in both Ballarat and Bendigo, observing and sketching what he saw on the diggings. These sketches of the goldfields have been invaluable in the creation of Sovereign Hill and deepening our understanding of 1850s goldrush life.

When we write history, we can only build a story based on available evidence. Nothing can be made-up, or guessed. While we should always think critically about the history that we read, as sometimes the historian has a bias (meaning they aren’t balanced and fair with the way they present the human story), most of the time historians are trying to be true to what really happened to people in the past. By looking closely at evidence, which can be in the form of a primary source (something that was created by people who lived in the time of study, i.e. a letter from a miner dated 1854) or a secondary source (something that was created after the time by people who didn’t live there/then i.e. these blogposts written by Sovereign Hill Education), historians can construct an accurate story of what has happened in the past.

Sketches by S. T. Gill (primary sources) help us tell an accurate story of life on the Ballarat diggings. Take a look at the images below. Here we can compare one of Gill’s famous sketches with the 1850s-style buildings (secondary sources) you see at Sovereign Hill. While our visitors often get distracted by gold panning and raspberry drops, every detail of our museum, from the buildings and gardens, to costumes and food, tell carefully-researched stories about life during the Ballarat goldrush.

Do you think we have represented 1850s Ballarat accurately? What differences can you see between Gill’s sketches and the reproduced buildings? Why do you think we sometimes choose to make our buildings slightly differently from those you see in Gill’s sketches?

You can see more of Gill’s sketches and the way we have used them to create Sovereign Hill through a visit to the Gold Museum.


Compare S. T. Gill’s “Ballarat Post Office & Township from Government Enclosure”, created in 1857, to Sovereign Hill’s Post Office in Main Street. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.


Compare S. T. Gill’s “Butchers Shamble”, created in 1852, to Sovereign Hill’s Butcher’s Shamble on the Red Hill Gully Diggings. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.


Compare S. T. Gill’s “Bushman’s Hut”, created in 1864, to Sovereign Hill’s slab hut near the Post Office Lake. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.


Compare S. T. Gill’s “John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant, Main Road, Ballaarat”, created in 1853, to Sovereign Hill’s John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.


Compare S. T. Gill’s “Coffee tent and sly grog shop, diggers breakfast”, created in 1852, to Sovereign Hill’s sly grog tent on the Red Hill Gully Diggings. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.

Links and references

A student-friendly biography of S. T. Gill’s life:

Our very own Gold Museum on their collection of sketches by S. T. Gill:

A video on S. T. Gill’s “beautiful, original lithographs”:

Wikipedia on S. T. Gill:

The Australian Dictionary of Biography on S. T. Gill:

A video of a lecture on S. T. Gill’s life:


“Why do I have to learn about the Goldrush?”

Naturally, at Sovereign Hill we think everyone should learn about the Ballarat Goldrush. Why is it such an important period in Australian history you ask? Well, in essence it changed our country in profound ways which continue to impact on the way we live today. If gold hadn’t been found in this region, Australia may have developed a very different system of government, economy and population. And without gold, Ballarat itself probably wouldn’t even be on the map! Let’s examine some of the most important legacies of the Goldrush, including some aspects that perhaps we are not so proud of…

The impact of the Goldrush on our government


In the lead up to the Eureka Rebellion, those involved held public meetings to discuss their ideas for making Victoria’s democracy better. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

Due in large part to the tragic loss of life at Ballarat’s Eureka Rebellion, Victoria had the most advanced democracy in the world by 1855 (Littlejohn, Marion. Eureka Stockade, Black Dog Books, Victoria 2013, p. 29). This historic event, which occurred on Sunday 3rd December, 1854, saw at least 30 people killed. It continues to be an event that historians argue about; some say it had to happen to force the government to change the taxation and democratic systems, while others say it was an utter waste of life. Historians sometimes argue that it’s a story of pesky troublemakers, or a kind of Irish uprising against the English for the long history of conflict between those two nations. Some people claim it was the start of the union movement, and the birthplace of Australian left-wing politics, while others think it was an act of terror committed by a group of extremists.

All of this debate about its significance makes it all the more interesting and important to study – and regardless of your opinion, at the time it did push the Victorian government to improve the taxation and democratic voting systems. As a result of the Eureka Rebellion, Victoria introduced the secret ballot (secret voting), salaries for members of parliament, and for the first time, most men of European descent over the age of 21 could vote. Learn more about the Eureka Rebellion here.

The impact of the Goldrush on the economy

Approximately $100 billion of gold (in today’s dollar value) was discovered in Victoria during the Goldrush (Bradby, Doug. Don’t go to the Goldfields, 2015, Waller & Chester, Victoria, p.126) making Melbourne one of the richest cities in the world! This wealth enabled Victorians to make huge investments in industrial technologies such as foundries, factories and ports, and bought us important public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges. The foundation stones for both The University of Melbourne and the State Library were laid on the same day in 1854; such huge building projects were only made possible as a result of the Goldrush.


Most of the world’s largest gold nuggets were found in the Ballarat region, like this 68kg monster – the famous ‘Welcome Nugget”. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

Gold also transformed the structure of Victoria’s economy. Before gold, our economy was based on producing wool (sheep farming) to be exported to the factories of industrial England thus making all involved very rich. If we go back even further, the (pre-European) Aboriginal economy in this region was based on the trade of things like precious greenstone axes and possum-skin cloaks.

Many historians argue that the Ballarat Goldrush finished when World War 1 began, as by that time Ballarat’s economy had turned to manufacturing – the city’s foundries and factories were used to make trains, shoes, woollen blankets etc. This is one of the reasons Ballarat continued to grow and thrive after the Goldrush finished. And what is our local economy based on now? It’s based on a combination of things like healthcare, tourism and manufacturing to name just a few. Learn more about Ballarat’s 21st century economy here.

The impact of the Goldrush on Victoria’s population

Without the Goldrush, many Victorians wouldn’t be here today. The reason many of you were born here is because your great-great-great-great grandparents immigrated to Australia in search of gold during the 19th century.

The goldfields were a true melting pot of cultures, languages and ideas. Things were harmonious at times while at others, sadly, there was racially-fueled violence in the streets. Regardless of such details, Victoria’s population exploded from about 80,000 people before gold in 1851, to more than 550,000 only ten years later (Serle, Geoffrey. The Golden Age: A history of the colony of Victoria 1851-1861, 1977, Melbourne University Press, p.382). Ask your parents and grandparents some questions about your family history – was your family in Australia at the time of the Goldrush or did they come later as a result of it?

Some negative impacts of the Goldrush

History must not be “sugar-coated”. There are important aspects of the Goldrush that should also be studied which don’t fill us with pride about the development of modern Australia. The first of the negative consequences of the Goldrush involves the disruption it caused to Ballarat’s ecosystems. 160 years later there is still lots of evidence of this region being turned upside-down in pursuit of gold. Forests, animal populations and waterways are still recovering today.


Learn more about the Aboriginal side of Sovereign Hill’s Goldrush story by exploring our new digital tour – Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People.

This relates to the second negative consequence of the Goldrush – this region has been the country of the Wadawurrung People for 2,000 generations. Although there were already Europeans in Victoria (mostly farming sheep) before the Goldrush, the huge population increase the Goldrush brought had a devastating impact on the traditional lifestyles of the Wadawurrung People. All of the new arrivals needed food, water, and wood for houses and mineshafts, which meant that natural resources in this region were in unparalleled demand. This meant that traditional hunting grounds were turned into private farms with fences, and forests that Wadawurrung People had looked after for thousands of years to ensure they produced all of the food, shelter and fibre their population needed to live comfortably, were chopped down to be built with, or burnt in the boiler houses of the goldfields (learn more about this here). In one generation, the lives of Victorian Aboriginal People were radically transformed. As a result, the Wadawurrung People will never be able to truly practice their traditional culture, as their ancestors have done for perhaps as long as 60,000 years. These aspects of the Goldrush story are just as important to learn about as all of the wealth and prosperity it brought to this country. Sovereign Hill recently launched a new digital tour focusing on the Goldrush experiences of the Wadawurrung People called Hidden Histories.

So, do you think the Goldrush is an important part of the Australian story? Does studying it help us better understand who we are now? What other periods in Australian history do you think people should learn about?

Links and references

Here’s a great Lego movie about the Eureka Rebellion made by some Victorian Grade 5 students:

A brief history of Ballarat:,_Victoria

Information about all of the Australian gold rushes:

A wonderful interactive map of Australia’s gold rushes:

Some fascinating places to visit where you can learn more about the gold rushes:

A video on the history of democracy:

Littlejohn, Marion. Eureka Stockade, 2013, Black Dog Books, Victoria.

Bradby, Doug. Don’t go to the Goldfields, 2015, Waller & Chester, Victoria.

Serle, Geoffrey. The Golden Age: A history of the colony of Victoria 1851-1861, 1977, Melbourne University Press.

Queen Victoria


Statue of Queen Victoria in Sturt Street, Ballarat.

Queen Victoria ruled the largest empire in human history, and was Australia’s monarch during the gold rush. She ruled over 458 million people and was queen for a record 63 years! The people of Ballarat loved her so much that they paid for a marble statue of her to be made and placed it in front of the Ballarat Town Hall in 1900.

12 curious facts about Queen Victoria:

1. Queen Victoria survived 7 assassination (murder) attempts! She was so brave; after police failed to catch the second of these failed assassins on 29th May, 1842, she drove her carriage along the same road the day after the attack to tempt the man to fire his gun at her again. When he foolishly did, undercover policemen arrested him. Queen Victoria was unharmed, and the assassin, named John [James] Francis, was punished through transportation to Tasmania as a convict.


Part of a ‘broadside’ (news poster) on Francis’ attempted assassination of the Queen, printed in 1842 by E. Lloyd.

2. Victoria wasn’t your ordinary 19th century woman. At a time when women were believed by most people in Europe to be weak and intellectually inferior to men, she became queen of a huge empire at the age of 18 and was one of the best educated people in the world (read more about this here). Very interestingly, Victoria asked Prince Albert to marry her, rather than the other way around. This was because nobody by law could ask the Queen to marry them. This situation would have been very uncommon during this era. Read more about life for the average Victorian woman here.

3. The political parties in England (the “Whigs” and the “Tories”) had a huge argument – called The Bedchamber Crisis – over who Victoria’s maids should be. Being close to a king or queen through helping to dress them, tutoring their children, or even cleaning their chamber pot was considered an extremely important political position, as such jobs gave you a lot of time to potentially talk to and influence the monarch.

4. During the height of the Irish Potato Famine (known in Ireland as The Great Famine or Great Hunger), despite anger from English Anglicans (Protestants), Queen Victoria donated £2,000 of her private wealth to help the suffering (Catholic) Irish. In modern money this would be about $2 million (Australian dollars).


Queen Victoria in her famous white wedding dress.

5. Queen Victoria is believed to be the bride who popularised the white wedding dress. Before her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, brides wore coloured dresses. As a keen supporter of British industry, Victoria wore a white, machine-made dress with handmade lace for trimmings, including her veil. Very soon after Victoria and Albert’s wedding, women all over the British Empire were wearing white to be married. Queen Victoria loved this dress so much that she often wore it, or parts of it at her wedding anniversaries, the baptism of her children, and later in life at her children’s weddings. When she died in 1901, she was even buried with her cherished wedding veil covering her face (along with a plaster cast of Prince Albert’s hand).

6. While Victoria was an intelligent, strong-willed woman who took a lead role in managing the British Empire during her time as queen, women couldn’t vote in Britain until long after her death, and she is thought to have been against the idea of female emancipation (women’s right to vote).

7. Queen Victoria was an only child, and had a difficult relationship with her mother who, many historians argue, wanted to control Victoria and thus keep royal power for herself.

8. Victoria and Albert had 9 children, naming them (in order) Victoria, Albert, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. In total, they had 42 grandchildren. Their first grandchild, born to daughter Victoria (Jr) and her husband Prince Frederick of Prussia (Germany), was named Wilhelm and became the last German Kaiser (emperor) who is considered largely responsible for causing World War 1.

9. Victoria gave birth to her two youngest children under the influence of chloroform, which was really the first general anaesthetic. The church was not happy about her decision to have (and by way of her fame, promote) pain-free childbirth, as they believed it was against the teaching of The Bible. She didn’t listen; Victoria hated being pregnant, hated childbirth, is thought to have suffered postnatal depression, and didn’t breastfeed her own children. In her detailed diaries, she wrote “Being pregnant is an occupational hazard of being a wife”.

10. Until recent times, it was common for European royals to keep the power in the family so to speak. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was actually her cousin.

11. Victoria passed the haemophilia gene (which stops your blood from clotting, so you can bleed to death from a simple scratch) to many of her children and grandchildren.


A gold sovereign (£1 sterling) from 1851, the year gold was discovered in Australia, featuring Queen Victoria’s profile.

12. The love of Victoria’s life, Prince Albert, died from typhoid at the age of 42 in 1861. Typhoid is a horrible bacterial infection which, without treatment causes a fever, digestive system failure, a rash, blood poisoning, and in many cases results in death. Antibiotics weren’t developed and made available until the 1940s, long after Alfred’s death. Victoria remained in mourning for the rest of her life, and wore black in memory of Albert until the day she died.

During Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain went to war with China twice (called the Opium Wars), primary education was made compulsory and free, vaccination against smallpox became compulsory, Prince Albert managed the hugely successful Great Exhibition of 1851, London’s famous underground railway – the Tube – was developed, the telephone was invented, the Irish Potato Famine occurred, and our state, Victoria (named of course after our beloved queen), became a separate colony. She lived and ruled the largest empire on Earth during a fascinating time in history!

Links and References

Child-friendly website about Queen Victoria:

Horrible Histories on Queen Victoria:

List of the largest empires in history:

On assassin John Francis’ transportation to Tasmania:

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress:

Curious facts about Queen Victoria:

A timeline of Victoria’s reign:

Oh, Sovereign Hill is a museum!


Hard-boiled lollies YUM!!!

Many of our guests – young and old – get confused about Sovereign Hill. Some people think that it is a theme park because panning for gold, eating lollies and riding in horse-drawn carriages is so much fun. However, Sovereign Hill is actually a museum, meaning it is a place where Ballarat’s history is studied, artefacts are collected, and Australia’s gold story is shared with visitors. Most museums tell their stories through displays in glass cases, but we teach visitors about the past through living exhibits.

Why does Sovereign Hill do this?

The first part of the answer challenges us to think about the purpose of studying history – why learn about the past? History helps us understand who we are; it explains why we speak the language we do, why we dress a certain way etc., and it also helps us understand the wider world and our place in it. It teaches us to avoid repeating the mistakes that others have already made, and to appreciate all of the good things about 21st century life. History also helps us see that there are other ways of living, of organising our society, of thinking about ourselves, and that things can and do change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Also let’s not forget all of the weird and wonderful characters, events, technologies and fashions from the past that make people of all ages giggle and gasp!

Why is Sovereign Hill a museum with living exhibits such as costumed people, fragrant horse poo and a creek complete with real gold? Because we think this is the most engaging and exciting way to learn about history. When you step through our gate you are sent 160 years back into the past, to a world of dirty miners, daggy troopers (policemen), and impractically-dressed but pretty ladies in big crinolines. Instead of looking at a display in a glass case, you get to talk to our costumed staff to learn about the past – do stop to have a chat, they are all very friendly!

gold panning

“Eureka!! I found some gold!”

Play is another important part of our living museum – try your hand at gold panning, go bowling, or make a candle. You can also taste history here – try some goodies from the bakery, or a lolly, or five. Lastly, you can smell the past – the lovely perfumes of the Apothecary (known in modern times as a pharmacy/ chemist) on Main Street were actually believed to prevent sickness! You will have so much fun in our museum that you won’t even realise you are learning. We believe that is the best way to make learning about the gold rush era stick in your head.

butcher's shambles

“Butcher’s Shambles” by S. T. Gill. You can find our Butcher’s Shambles at the bottom of the Red Hill Gully Diggings.

Of course not all of our exhibits are completely accurate for very practical reasons. If our museum really smelt like Ballarat did during the gold rush, you wouldn’t come. Nobody would! In the very early days after gold was discovered here in 1851, there were no sewerage pipes… You couldn’t flush away “your business”; you just tipped your chamber pot out wherever you could. By law you had to dig a hole to pour your poop down, but sometimes such muck just ended up on the street, along with the piles of horse and sheep manure. Talking of sheep, historians estimate that about 1000 sheep per day were walked into Ballarat to be butchered and eaten during the busiest part of the gold rush. This led to rotting scraps lying in huge piles next to the butchers’ shambles (shop), and this meant flies! I hope you agree that we have made the right decision in cleaning history up a little.

The most important thing we want you to do during a visit to Sovereign Hill is empathise with the people who were here 160 years ago. When you empathise with someone you try to put yourself in their shoes, and see the world through their eyes. When you walk around our Chinese Camp, try to imagine you were a Chinese gold miner living here in 1855.  What was life like for you? As you walk around the tents, imagine you were a woman with 4 children living on the diggings while your miner husband hasn’t found any gold. How would your family survive?


“No Gold License eh?!”

One of our favourite education sessions that school students enjoy is called “Gold Fever”. Maybe your class has visited us to play it, and you remember what it felt like to be a miner getting picked on by the nasty troopers. By competing to be the richest, and therefore, most successful miners, teams have to work together, be a little sneaky about Gold Licenses, and keep their eyes on the dodgy bankers. These are all problems Ballarat’s miners had to deal with on a daily basis. This game is all about teaching students to empathise with others and to understand how different life was in the past.

So, museums exist to teach people about history, while also teaching skills like empathy, critical thinking and chronology (putting historical events in order and understanding how one event often causes the next). Do you think Sovereign Hill does a good job at teaching visitors about history?

Links and References:

What is a museum? –

Why go to a museum? –

Why study history? – 

Studying History is important –

A great YouTube Chanel dedicated to teaching History –

Sesame Street explain empathy –

For teachers; empathy theory –

Should museums teach facts or skills?:

The National Centre for History Education (Australian Government) on empathy –