Category Archives: Museum

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.

Redcoat9

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:

Redcoat1

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.

Redcoat4

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.

Redcoat3

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.

shako

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.

Redcoat8

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: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2011/08/15/the-redcoats-connecting-history-lessons/

Sovereign Hill’s Redcoats firing their guns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loLdcXa0_w8

A wonderful V&A webpage about 19th century fashion: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/0-9/19th-century-fashion/

Learn about ladies’ weird 1850s underpants…: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/09/06/gold-rush-undies-womens-fashionable-underwear-in-the-1850s/

What did children wear during the gold rush? https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/11/26/gold-rush-babes-childrens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Men’s 1850s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/07/17/gold-rush-beaus-mens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Women’s 1850s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/28/gold-rush-belles-womens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

The British Army during Queen Victoria’s reign: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Army_during_the_Victorian_Era

A social story for ASD students preparing for a Sovereign Hill visit: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Here_come_the_Redcoats.pdf

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.

PO

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.

Butch

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.

Hut

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.

Alloo

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.

Grog

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: http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00290b.htm

Our very own Gold Museum on their collection of sketches by S. T. Gill: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/s-t-gill-the-artist-of-the-goldfields/

A video on S. T. Gill’s “beautiful, original lithographs”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21PZTJm2_XQ

Wikipedia on S. T. Gill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._T._Gill

The Australian Dictionary of Biography on S. T. Gill: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gill-samuel-thomas-2096

A video of a lecture on S. T. Gill’s life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ6-IaVlePE

 

Oh, Sovereign Hill is a museum!

lollies

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?

trooper

“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? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum

Why go to a museum? – http://colleendilen.com/2009/07/31/10-reasons-to-visit-a-museum/

Why study history? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLE-5ElGlPM 

Studying History is important – http://www.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/resources/articles/why_history_matters.html

A great YouTube Chanel dedicated to teaching History – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX6b17PVsYBQ0ip5gyeme-Q

Sesame Street explain empathy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_1Rt1R4xbM

For teachers; empathy theory – https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization

Should museums teach facts or skills?: http://museumquestions.com/2015/01/26/schools-and-museums-can-museums-teach-content-to-school-groups/

The National Centre for History Education (Australian Government) on empathy –  http://www.hyperhistory.org/index.php?option=displaypage&Itemid=794&op=page