Category Archives: Queen Victoria

1850s Hair Dos and Don’ts

While you may think that hairdos in history aren’t really worth studying, they can actually tell us a lot about what life was like in the past. A hairdo can tell us about technology, through the kinds of products historical ‘dos’ required, or about fashion and making a statement, or about social class (whether you were rich or poor, powerful or powerless … ), and it can even be handy for dating historical paintings and photographs!

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A collection of unknown Ballarat women from the Gold Museum collection sporting a range of 19th century hairdos. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

For thousands of years, people have enjoyed using hair from their heads to decorate their bodies. Hair can be a very important part of someone’s identity; it can relate to religion, law (yes, there have been laws in history that have controlled hairdos!) or simply fashion, and, of course, hairdos are closely linked with humanity’s various and ever-changing ideas around beauty.

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Self-portrait of Queen Victoria, 1835. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

In the 19th century, hairdos for women in the British Empire (which included Australia) tended to follow the style of Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years. This powerful woman had a huge influence over all things fashion, and is even thought to be the bride who popularised the white wedding dress, which many women still wear today. Before her time, British women simply wore their best dress on their wedding day, whatever the colour. Fashions in both hair and clothes changed a great deal during her time as queen, as you can see here.

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The first known photograph of Queen Victoria, pictured here with her eldest daughter, c.1845. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

By the 1850s, Queen Victoria tended to wear her hair parted in the middle. It was either pulled back behind the ears (which would then be covered by a day cap/bonnet), or would be used to cover the ears when a head covering wasn’t necessary (at a ball, for example). Otherwise, she, like the millions of women in her empire during this time in history, covered their heads out of Christian politeness, and always when outside (providing they could afford it!). Not only did wearing head coverings out of doors keep your hair clean before the invention of the shower and hair dryer, they tended to protect you from sunburn. And back then, fancy ladies wanted the whitest skin possible – ‘Only peasants and natives have tans!’. Beauty ideals like these demonstrate how acceptable racism (and classism) was in the 19th century.

For men, the beginning of the 1800s saw the end of elaborate powdered wigs and a return to natural hairstyles and colours. A few decades later and beards and moustaches also came into fashion. A male fashionista of the time, Beau Brummell, led the way with these new, relaxed, natural hairdos, which got shorter and more controlled as the century rolled on. Hair styling products such as hair oil became popular with men during this time; however, they didn’t have the means to wash it out like we do today (with shampoo) until the 1890s. The first shampoos were powders, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that we saw the invention of liquid shampoos.

Most people’s washing habits in 1850s Ballarat mirrored those practiced in England; however, clean water (that which wasn’t polluted by goldmining or human waste near it … ) on the diggings was often hard to come by. Miners and their wives would pay a lot of money – particularly during dry summers – for buckets of fresh water taken from what was then called Yuille’s Swamp (now Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree). Bathing usually only happened once a week (typically on Saturday nights so the family was clean for church on Sunday), but that bath wasn’t for washing hair, and besides, you had to share the water with your entire family because it was so scarce!

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Photograph of an unknown man dubbed the “Chinese Giant”, 1870. Notice his long queue. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum. 

Of course there were many nationalities present on the Ballarat goldfields, which meant yet more hair styles could be seen around 1850s Ballarat. One of the most striking hairstyles common during this era was the ‘queue’ worn by Ballarat’s many Chinese miners. Back in China, it was compulsory for men to sport this ‘do’, which involved shaving the front of the head, and growing the back very long and wearing it in a plait. The Aboriginal people of this region – the Wadawurrung people – may have worn their hair differently to the Europeans and the Chinese; however, from the limited photographic evidence we have, many appear to have adopted European hairstyles by this time.

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Marcel curlers, also known as hot curling irons or hot curling tongs. 

An exploration of 19th century hair in Australia wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fashion for hair artworks and even hair jewellery, which was commonly something a lady would give to her lover, or someone would make from the hair of a recently deceased loved one. You can see lots of examples of this curious practice here. Another weird habit of European women in the 1800s was the collecting of hair from a hairbrush to use as padding to create certain hairdos. Hair was collected in a ‘hair receiver’ and then moulded as required into a ‘rat’ to place inside a bun or to give hair volume. Lastly, the rather terrifying ‘Marcel Wave’ hair curler became popular towards the end of the century, even though it was very easy to burn your hair off while using it – it was heated in the fire before being applied to hair!

Links and References

A pictorial overview of Victorian hair styles: http://www.whizzpast.com/victorian-hairstyles-a-short-history-in-photos/

A series of videos on this history of women’s hairdos (Eurocentric): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGc2ylEgfQ&list=PLWpk-1VZu_yM5ms7Mm1wBirhm5G1UPOwZ

A brief visual history of men and women’s hairdos through history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVr8W6HME4A

A video on the history of shampoo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEjeTYzZjzg

Horrible Histories on Incan shampoo…: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqWoWscljQs

A great history of hair from the Chertsey Museum: http://chertseymuseum.org/hair

A great BBC article on the history of the wedding dress: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140503-how-wedding-dresses-evolved

A woman’s life on the Ballarat goldfield: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf

The Great Exhibition of 1851

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Queen Victoria and Prince Regent Albert.

There were many exciting events happening around the world in the same year gold was discovered in Ballarat. In 1851 powdered milk was invented, the New York Times newspaper was printed for the first time, the movement to end slavery in the USA was building in strength, and the famous novel about a white whale –Moby Dick– by Herman Melville was published. Louis Daguerre, the inventor of photography died in 1851, the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was at its deadly peak, and Isaac Merritt Singer patented the sewing machine, which radically transformed people’s lives. However, the biggest event, dominating newspapers the world over for nearly 6 months, was “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations” held in London in 1851.

As the heart of the 1750-1900 Industrial Revolution, Britain by 1851 was the most powerful nation on Earth. Technological advances, in particular the invention of coal-powered steam engines which drove cotton mills, potteries, ships, and trains, had given Queen Victoria’s people cheap clothing and homewares, and access to all corners of the globe. What better way to celebrate Britain’s achievements than by holding a huge show of the latest local and international goodies and gadgets!

The idea for an exhibition came from the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and it was managed by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. Many believed then, as many still do today, that the royal couple were visionaries. Prince Albert explained his motivation for The Great Exhibition:

We are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end – to which all history points – the realisation of the unity of mankind … Gentleman, the Exhibition of 1851 is to give us a true test of the point of development at which the whole of mankind has arrived in this great task, and a new starting point from which all nations will be able to direct their further exertions.”

Victoria and Albert believed they were leading the world towards peace, comfort and cooperation by celebrating technology through their Great Exhibition.

The first part of the plan was to design a grand building to showcase all of the world’s weird and wonderful inventions – Albert chose Sir Joseph Paxton’s design which was later dubbed “The Crystal Palace” because it was made of cheap cast iron and strong, cast-plate glass which had only been invented in 1848. This amazing structure was 1,851 feet long (equalling 564m) to celebrate the year of the Exhibition, and built in London’s Hyde Park. It was so cleverly designed that it was built over some huge trees, which provided shade – inside the building – on warm days. The Crystal Palace was easily accessed by visitors travelling on the new steam trains and as a result, over 6 million people (a quarter of England’s population!) attended this gigantic festival of all things machine and machine-made.

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The State Opening of The Great Exhibition in 1851. Colour lithograph, England, 19th century. Victoria & Albert Museum.

Among the thousands of items displayed, visitors could see the cotton weaving looms that had transformed the manufacturing of clothing, gas cookers, fabrics of all colours and materials, farm equipment, electric clocks, newly discovered gold from Australia, a carriage drawn by kites, a ‘pocket’ knife with precisely 1851 blades, a submarine, a two person piano, miniature towns, giant diamonds from India, strange taxidermy, and fountains of perfume. Not only was this the first time such wonderful objects and inventions had been seen in public, for many people from the British countryside, this was their first visit to London. A visit which involved not only a train trip, but also seeing so many marvels of the modern world – this would have been a mind-blowing experience for many of Britain’s country folk!

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A Great Exhibition pull-out poster from the famous Illustrated London News, 1851.

On the topic of the Great Exhibition, the poet Lord Alfred Tennnyson wrote: … lo! the giant aisles
Rich in model and design;
Harvest-tool and husbandry,
Loom and when and enginery,
Secrets of the sullen mine,
Steel of the sullen mine,
Steel and gold, and coal and wine,
Fabric rough or fairy fine …
And shapes and hues of Art divine!
All of beauty, all of use,
That one fair planet can produce.

The Great Exhibition was such an incredible success that with the huge amount of money made from it, Victoria and Albert were able to set up The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum which to this day remain some of the most fascinating places to visit in London. The spirit of The Great Exhibition continued to encourage technological development: by 1862 steam trains linked Ballarat to Melbourne and Geelong, and not long after that Ballarat started building factories to create its own steam engines and machine parts (called foundries).

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The steam train arrives in Ballarat! (1862) Australian steam trains can be identified by their strange conical chimneys, called “spark arrestors”, which stop the trains from starting bush fires. Ballarat Historical Society Photograph Collection.

Due in large part to the discovery of gold, Victoria’s population grew rapidly and people invested their gold money in industry and real estate. As one of the richest communities in the world, Victoria held an Exhibition in 1880 in the purpose-built Royal Exhibition Building (in Carlton next to the modern Melbourne Museum). It attracted around 1.5 million people at a time when Melbourne’s population hadn’t even reached 300,000.

Since 1851, many cities around the world have held international Exhibitions along the same lines as Britain’s, but none have rivalled it in size or legacy.

Links and References

Horrible Histories on The Great Exhibition and Victoria and Albert’s love for each other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flaLHJCKy3I

These websites explain the major events of 1851: http://www.historyorb.com/events/date/1851 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1851

Great student-friendly website about Queen Victoria: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/famouspeople/victoria/

Wikipedia on The Great Exhibition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Exhibition

Two great short videos about the Great Exhibition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRvOHOltp_w https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqM6PXyp5MA

Timeline of work undertaken by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce: http://www.thersa.org/about-us/history-and-archive/rsa-history-timeline

Interactive game teaching about the Great Potato Famine: http://www.irishpotatofamine.org/flash.html

The history of international exhibitions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World’s_fair

A fantastic book all about The Great Exhibition is: http://www.crystalpalacefoundation.org.uk/shop/great-exhibition-1851/the-world-for-a-shilling 

Queen Victoria

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/famouspeople/victoria/

Horrible Histories on Queen Victoria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flaLHJCKy3I

List of the largest empires in history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_empires

On assassin John Francis’ transportation to Tasmania: http://www.linc.tas.gov.au/events/featured/research/john-francis

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress_of_Queen_Victoria

Curious facts about Queen Victoria: http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-queen-victoria

A timeline of Victoria’s reign: http://www.britroyals.com/kings.asp?id=victoria

It’s beach time!

As this blog already contains several posts about the history of Christmas, this festive season we have decided to explore the history of beach holidays!

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An early bathing machine.

Bathing in the ocean became popular in Europe in the 1700s, before Australia was colonised by Britain. Both immersing yourself in the water and drinking sea water were considered to cure all kinds of illnesses. As a result, many of Europe’s rich and powerful would spend a “season” at the seaside, bathing most days using a bathing machine. Believe it or not, winter was considered the best time to do this.

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Ladies “Bathing Dress”- 1858, from the magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

A bathing machine was a hut on wheels in which people changed into their swim suits. This carriage-type contraption was then pushed into the water (using man power, horse power or sometimes even steam power) so the bather could step out and immediately lower themselves into the water. Some bathing machines had tents that would extend out and enable bathers to enter the water in complete privacy, while some came with “dippers” or “bathers”. These were attendants of the same sex as the bather who would dunk you underwater the correct number of times to cure whatever illness you had been diagnosed with.

Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert believed that sea bathing was beneficial to one’s health, and in 1846 he had a bathing machine installed on the beach near their summer palace on the Isle of Wight. Victoria and her daughters regularly used the bathing box to enjoy the water. The queen’s bathing box, used to preserve her modesty, is now fully restored and on public view.

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Queen Victoria’s bathing machine has a veranda at the front where curtains concealed her from view whilst she bathed. Inside is a changing room and a plumbed-in toilet. The whole contraption was run into the sea from the beach along a long ramp, and pulled back using a wire rope and winch!

By the 1850s, when gold was discovered here in Ballarat, dippers had gone out of fashion. However, people continued to visit the seaside especially after train travel made reaching the beach cheap and convenient.  Some historians think that the main motivation now was pleasure and holiday making although many people still believed a visit to the seaside was good for your health. By this time people were going to the beach during summer rather than winter.

Bathing soon became popular here in Australia although in some parts of the country it was banned during daylight hours up until 1902 because a wet woman in a swim suit was considered an indecent sight. Furthermore, some men were said to enjoy swimming naked, so you definitely couldn’t do that in public.

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St Kilda Esplanade, main beach (1864).

The St Kilda Sea Baths were opened in 1860 to take advantage of the popular seaside excursion trend. These enclosed sea baths were thought to keep bathers safe from Australia’s scariest sea creatures. However, even before the baths were built, St Kilda was a popular swimming spot. In the 1840s it already had bathing boxes (bathing machines with their wheels taken off), and by 1854 Captain Kenney had deliberately sunk a ship just off the beach and put out ropes to it for people to swim along. Once the St Kilda train station was opened in 1857 more sea baths opened and regular swimming competitions were held. As businesses, the baths were not the financial success the owners hoped as the majority of visitors to St Kilda soon became confident to swim in open water.

Since these humble beginnings, going to the beach has now become a normal part of Australian life. Most Australians live on or near the coast, and some of our beaches like Bells in Torquay, Bondi in Sydney and the Gold Coast near Brisbane are considered to be among the best in the world. Interestingly, having tanned skin was avoided by European women during the nineteenth century, as it showed you were poor and had to work outdoors like a peasant.

Like swimming, the history of swimwear is also fascinating, read all about it here. Enjoy the summer sun and happy holidays!

Links and References

The history of sea bathing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_bathing

19th century bathing history: http://consideringausten.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/so-you-want-to-go-swimming-in-regency-england/

18th and 19th century bathing history: http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/04/15/victorian-prudes-beachside-bathing-machines/

History of St Kilda Baths, Melbourne: http://www.stkildaseabaths.com.au/history

History of sun tanning: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/tale-of-tanning