Category Archives: inventions

How? When? Why? – The Industrial Revolution in Australia

Last of England

Ford Maddox Brown, The Last of England, 1855, reproduced with permission from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Student visitors to Sovereign Hill often explore this painting during our education sessions because it can tell us interesting stories about the hundreds of thousands of people who came to Australia during the height of Ballarat’s gold rush. Painted by Ford Maddox Brown, it is entitled ‘The Last of England’. If we could, we would ask these people about the skills and ideas they are bringing with them to Australia, because these are the kind of people who shaped modern Australia into the country it is today. You can watch a source analysis of this artwork here. For better or for worse, European immigrants like these brought the Industrial Revolution, democracy, and a completely new agricultural system to this land ‘girt by sea’.

Let’s explore these imported skills and ideas in more detail.

Definitions:

Europeans realised there was gold in Victoria in 1851 at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In the same year Queen Victoria launched her Great Exhibition in London which showcased England’s new industrial technologies. Many of the six million people — equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time — who visited the Great Exhibition, were soon to join the mass migration to the Australian goldfields. They brought with them Industrial Revolution knowledge, experience and skills – many had ridden in trains, worked in factories, and believed that the ‘Age of Steam’ had made Britain the most powerful nation on Earth, and could have a similar impact on Australia.

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At the start of the Victorian gold rushes, only simple hand-held and often handmade technologies (like the ones in this sketch) were needed to find gold, but by the 1860s steam-powered machines were required to extract gold from deep underground. S. T. Gill, Prospecting, from The Australian Sketchbook, c.1865, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat.

After the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, the muddle of goldminers’ tents that people called ‘Ballaarat’ (a local Aboriginal [Wadawurrung] word for resting place) became a more permanent city. As the easily accessible gold started to run out, these immigrants began importing steam-powered machines from Britain so they could mine for gold trapped deeper underground. This meant that Ballarat’s mining changed from an individual occupation to a company (group) project, and helped to keep people here once the initial ‘rush’ was over. Without these technologies (which among other things pumped water out of mines and fresh air in, powered elevators, and crushed quartz to extract its gold) the Ballarat gold rush would probably have come to a grinding halt.

During the 1860s and 70s, many Ballaratians invested their gold wealth in local factories and foundries to build their own industrial machinery, such as steam engines and boilers. This meant that you didn’t have to wait a long time for your steam engine to arrive on a ship from the other side of the planet, you could instead purchase it (much more cheaply) from a foundry just down the road.

 

Phoenix

The Phoenix Foundry in Ballarat – capable of smelting iron to create steam engine components and steam trains. S. Calvert, PHOENIX FOUNDRY, BALLARAT. – THE ENGINE FITTING ROOM (where Target in central Ballarat is located today) 1873, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat.

Many Victorian towns had been built on gold by this time, but many withered and died as soon as their gold ran out, to the point that many are now ghost towns. However, Ballarat and Bendigo are major regional cities today, and although there are still gold mines in or near both, they do not rely on gold to continue to grow. So what are the things that decided whether a town would grow, survive or die after a gold rush? We think the answer involves the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in Australia.

The decision to change the local economies and jobs in these cities from mining to manufacturing, helped these cities to continue to grow and thrive. Immigrants with experience building railways, factories, foundries, and deep mines back in Britain used their knowledge and skills to start an Industrial Revolution here. Had it not been for the gold rushes, it may have taken much longer for such steam-powered inventions to arrive in Australia.

By 1900 the Ballarat region was dotted with steam-powered machines, and the people who lived here enjoyed mass-produced and therefore cheaply-made goods. Much came from local factories, but as steam trains and ships were making product transport much faster and safer than people had experienced before, buying things from overseas became easier than ever. Tractors and other farm technologies, along with introduced plants and animals (such as wheat and sheep) were also industrialising the way food, fibre and medicines were produced, and because we could support a growing population with jobs and food, modern Australia started taking shape.

 

Queen Mine

Enter aAn example of a (steam-powered) company quartz mine in Ballarat. F. Kruger, Queen Mine (near Black Hill, Ballarat), 1887, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat. caption

Australia’s Industrial Revolution did have some significant environmental impacts which should be explored – namely in the way it required lots of trees to be chopped down to burn in boilers (local wood was also used to build houses and line mineshafts). This deforestation devastated local forests and caused the localised extinction of many plants and animals. Due to advances in industrial mining and transport technology, when wood couldn’t be regrown fast enough to replace what was being burned/built with, Australians started burning coal to produce power instead (once huge quantities of it were discovered). Read more about the environmental impacts of the Victorian gold rushes and Australia’s Industrial Revolution here.

While democracy – like the Industrial Revolution – was on its way to Australia one way or another, it is often argued by historians that the gold rushes and the Eureka Rebellion helped it get here faster. You can read more about this here.

 

Yr9 IR

Some Year 9 students learning about the arrival of steam power in Australia and visiting many of Sovereign Hill’s related museum exhibits through the education session entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’.

In summary, we think that Australia’s Industrial Revolution was likely sped-up by the gold rushes. If you would like to visit Sovereign Hill to learn more about this topic, we offer an education session for students entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’.

 

Links and References

Wikipedia on the Industrial Revolution: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on England: https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution

A great video about the Industrial Revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhL5DCizj5c

A Sovereign Hill Education video on the Industrial Revolution in Australia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVW6Xq3Pd4

An old post on the Sovereign Hill Education Blog called ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/02/06/the-industrial-revolution-in-australia/

Another old post on the Sovereign Hill Education Blog called ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia: Part 2’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/04/29/the-industrial-revolution-in-australia-part-2/

Sovereign Hill Education Blog on the ‘Environmental Impacts of the Gold Rush’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2014/09/01/the-environmental-impact-of-the-gold-rush/

A history of Ballarat featuring lots of great primary source images: http://ballaratgenealogy.org.au/ballarat-history

Encyclopaedia Britannica on the Industrial Revolution: https://www.britannica.com/event/Industrial-Revolution

The Khan Academy on the Industrial Revolution: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/big-history-project/acceleration/bhp-acceleration/a/the-industrial-revolution

A Gold Museum blog about a model train made by apprentices at Ballarat’s Phoenix Foundry in 1878: https://goldmuseumballarat.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/phoenix-foundry-model-locomotive-engine/

A podcast about the environmental impacts of Ballarat’s gold rush: https://talesfromratcity.com/2018/08/12/episode-eight/

A blogpost from the MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences): https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/08/29/industrial-revolution-in-australia-impact-on-manufacturing-in-the-1800s/

Life before we knew about germs …

How did we get from Miasma Theory to Germ Theory in the 19th century?

The way we see the world, and ourselves in it, can completely change when new scientific theories/ideas come along. While this can be scary in the eyes of some people, for others it provides better ways of living, and exciting new opportunities to make money. Some examples of big ideas in science which have changed the world include:

germs

Scanning electron microscope image of Vibrio Cholerae. This is the bacterium (germ) that causes cholera, a big killer on the 19th century Victorian goldfields. Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

In this blogpost, we will explore the scientific idea that microscopic germs exist, and how this idea radically changed the way we treat disease and deal with human waste. We are interested in this topic at Sovereign Hill Education because the 19th century gold rushes in Victoria were happening at the same time Germ Theory became popular. It changed the way Ballarat’s doctors did their work, and is the reason sewage pipes (that Ballaratians still use today) were installed under our city.

What is Miasma Theory?

Miasma = from the Ancient Greek word for ‘pollution’.

For thousands of years, people (and their doctors) in many places around the world believed that diseases, especially epidemics (like the Black Plague), were caused by ‘bad air’ which was commonly called miasma in English-speaking countries. It was thought that breathing-in or being too physically close to bad air from rotting organic matter (like a compost heap or pile of dog poo) could cause the four liquids found in your body (blood, phlegm [like snot], yellow bile, and black bile) to get out of balance. People believed that the weather and seasons could also affect these liquids and cause sickness (click here to learn more about a related idea called Humorism). Miasma was thought to cause all kinds of diseases, from diarrhoea to chicken pox, from the flu to obesity!

 

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A representation by Robert Seymour of the cholera epidemic of the 19th century depicts the spread of the disease in the form of deadly air (miasma). Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

Staying away from rotting and smelly things is smart because they can cause disease, so those miasma believers were on the right track, but it’s not the smell of these things that actually makes people sick.

In the past, when doctors treated sick people based on this theory, treatments often involved draining some of their blood. We now know that such treatments could be more dangerous than the sicknesses they were treating – for example, in 1799 it is likely that George Washington was accidentally bled to death by his doctor while being treated for a throat infection!

What is Germ Theory?

Germ = Late Middle English word (from an Old French word, originally from Latin) germen, which means ‘seed, sprout’.

While the compound microscope (from the Ancient Greek forsmall’ [mikros] and ‘to see’ [skopein]) was invented in the 1600s, it wasn’t until the 1800s that people realised they could actually see (through Lister’s improved microscope design) that germs – also known as microorganisms – existed, and could cause disease in people, animals and plants. A number of people had already tried to replace Miasma Theory with Germ Theory, but it took the work of scientists like Louis Pasteur and John Snow in the 1850s to popularise the idea that germs caused most diseases. Support for Miasma Theory didn’t completely disappear until the 1880s because, like any new scientific idea, it took a while to catch on. And unsurprisingly, people found it hard to believe in something they couldn’t see, until the technology came along to help them see it!vid

 

The first doctor on record (named Ignaz Semmelweis) to suggest that doctors should wash their hands between patients to avoid spreading disease was completely ignored by other doctors … He eventually died in an lunatic asylum from a disease he could have avoided if only his doctor had washed his hands!! There are many scientific ideas through history which people laughed at, or ignored, which turned out to be true. You can explore some of the most fascinating ones here.

How did these changes to the way we understand disease change our lives?

butcher

S.T.Gill’s Butcher’s Shamble, 1852, shows the unclean conditions in which meat was bought and sold before the popularisation of Germ Theory and the invention of electricity (to enable refrigeration)

By the time Germ Theory became popular, the Victorian gold rushes were well underway. In other parts of the world, the Industrial Revolution was creating factories around which cities were growing. Such hives of human activity like a mining centre or industrial city pushed people closer together than they had probably ever lived before in all of human history – and of course this meant diseases could spread more easily than ever from person to person. Knowledge of Germ Theory and the medicines it made possible over the next 100 years helped cure many diseases, but most importantly it helped to create more sanitary conditions, which meant people started living in cleaner houses and communities. For the first time, we started washing our hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, sterilising surgical equipment and removing and treating our sewage to make sure it didn’t end up in our drinking water. During this time, we began vaccinating children to help them avoid the most deadly diseases of childhood such as smallpox, and cleaning our teeth and bodies through the popularisation of soaps and toiletry products

In Ballarat, all of these Germ Theory changes reduced the death rate, particularly among children, and helped our city continue to grow. It affected the way we built the city and organised the infrastructure, like sewage treatment plants, hospitals, street gutters, and reservoirs (to collect and hold drinking water). Without Germ Theory, our lives would be just as brutal and short as those of our ancestors who lived during the rule of Miasma Theory.

Links and References

TEDed on the development of Germ Theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9LC-3ZKiok

Wikipedia on Miasma Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miasma_theory

Wikipedia on Germ Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease

History of the microscope: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microscope

Learn about the job of a nightman – the human pooperscooper: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2017/11/07/bad-19th-century-jobs-the-nightman/

Life expectancy has improved radically in the last 150 years in Australia: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/11/30/how-to-cook-a-gold-rush-feast/

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?

Then

Now

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

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Electric refrigerator

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Wooden, bone, paper and metal toys

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

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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

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

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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)

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

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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…)

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

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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: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jun/22/philosophy.plato

A video about the most important inventions humans have ever created: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwPw2VchQGQ

Changes to life expectancy across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo

The impact of the Industrial Revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhL5DCizj5c&index=32&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9

The way the Industrial Revolution fostered globalisation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SnR-e0S6Ic&index=41&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9

In praise of washing machines

full washing equip

An 1850s ‘washing machine’.

Many historians believe that the invention of electricity was the most important nineteenth century invention because it changed women’s lives dramatically. In the 1850s, there was no electricity and therefore no electric washing machine. What did this mean for those charged with washing the family’s clothes?

Nineteenth century gender roles, meaning the different kinds of jobs men and women were expected to do, were very strict – men worked outside the home in the ‘public’ world, while women worked inside the home in the ‘private’ world. Activities like working in mines or participating in politics were supposed to be performed by men, while taking care of the children and doing the family cooking and cleaning were activities performed by women. Nowadays, it is more common that all jobs, whether it’s mowing the lawn, making money from working in a factory or supermarket, or ironing clothes, are done by both men and women.

soap making

A tallow melting pan and a soap mold from the 1850s.

Washing clothes was a woman’s job in the 1850s. It required some very simple technologies: a large tub (bucket), a washboard, and some soap. Here, on the early diggings, most soap was homemade using tallow (which, in Ballarat, was sheep fat) mixed with some ash. Water had to be collected from creeks and lakes by bucket and was then heated over a fire. When Ballarat became a more established city, wealthier households built laundries in their gardens and installed ‘coppers’ (big copper buckets built over fireplaces) and garden water pumps (utilising underground ‘bore’ water) to make this work easier, but women still spent at least one entire day every week washing the family’s clothes.

copper

A laundry copper.

Have you ever heard the expression ‘She mangled her finger’? This comes from a clothes washing technology called a mangle. At first, these rollers, through which clothes would be squeezed near-dry, were hand-cranked, but when electric mangles were introduced many people (including children!) got their hands and hair caught in these machines with disastrous results. Thankfully, some of the most dangerous designs were outlawed. However, this wasn’t the only hazard to washer women. Irons made of heavy cast-iron were heated on the fireplace and then used to smoothe fabric. Modern irons are very safe in comparison! Women could easily burn themselves with 1850s irons, and getting serious burns (before antibiotics were invented) sometimes resulted in gangrene, blood poisoning and even death!

mangle

A 19th century mangle, also known as a wringer.

Until the electric washing machine became a common household appliance in the 1950s, women dedicated large amounts of their lives to washing, rinsing, wringing-out, drying, and ironing clothes. Some academics, like Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, believe that the electric washing machine was ‘the greatest invention of the Industrial Revolution’ because it suddenly afforded women time for things like education, work outside the home, and politics, once the washing machine was introduced. Can you think of any other inventions which have had a similarly big impact on people’s lives?

Links and references

A brief history of the washing machine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_machine

A history of laundry: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-of-washing-clothes.aspx

A brief history of the mangle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangle_(machine)

A history of irons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothes_iron

A history of antibiotics and infection: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/treatments/Pages/The-History-of-Antibiotics.aspx

A teacher resource on ‘Laundry in the 19th Century’: http://www.ebparks.org/Assets/files/Laundry_19th_Century_06-01-09.pdf

 

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.

phoenix

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYAk5jCTQ3s

Some great interactive photographs of Ballarat ‘then and now’: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/1865396/ballarat-now-and-then-family-uncovers-historic-images/

The Ballarat train station on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat_railway_station

Horrible Histories on transport (song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLL2Txs8kCg

A short history of trains and stations in Ballarat: http://www.onmydoorstep.com.au/heritage-listing/68/ballarat-railway-complex

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.

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.

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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.

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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.