Category Archives: Sovereign Hill

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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).

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Fire in the 19th Century

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Fire is an important yet destructive force in Australia.

Fire was an important tool for Australians new and old in the 19th century, but it could also be an enemy of gold miners and farmers alike.

Aboriginal People used fire to help them with hunting, and to promote the growth of valued edible and medicinal plants. This land management system also had the benefit of keeping “bush fuel” (leaf litter, fallen branches etc.) from building up to cause huge, dangerous fires. Many historians and scientists argue that Aboriginal People regularly and strategically burned parts of their country in this way for tens of thousands of years. Learn more about this here.

When large numbers of European People arrived in Victoria in the 1830s, a lot of land was cleared to grow more grass for sheep. The felled trees were used to build houses and fuel the fires people needed for cooking and heating, and later yet more trees were felled to reinforce the mineshafts and feed the boiler houses of Australia’s industrial revolution.

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A page from Sovereign Hill’s new website about the Aboriginal side of the goldrush story. Learn more about Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People here.

In places like Ballarat where people searched for gold in deep quartz mines once the alluvial deposits dried up, gold workings relied on steam power, which came from boiler houses fuelled with wood taken from the surrounding bush.

By 1851, farming had changed much of Victoria’s landscape from what it looked like before European colonisation. Fire was no longer a key land management tool but instead a threat to fear. Very few Aboriginal communities were still able to routinely burn their country, which meant bush fuel had the opportunity to build up. Within 16 years of the arrival of European People, almost all of the farmable land in Victoria had been turned into private property owned by squatters (European farmers). View a map that outlines this sudden change to the Victorian landscape here.

Some historians argue that as a result of this change in land management systems, one of Australia’s largest fires in recorded history occurred in 1851, the same year gold was discovered. Black Thursday, as it was later called, saw a quarter of Victoria burn, killing 12 people and destroying 1 million sheep. There is a famous painting of this catastrophe at the State Library by celebrated goldrush artist William Strutt, entitled “Black Thursday, 6th February 1851”.

Ballarat’s firefighting history

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A re-enactment of 19th century fire fighters putting out a staged fire as part of Fire Awareness Week 2015 at Sovereign Hill.

European and later Chinese miners on the diggings needed to use fire daily to warm and light their huts, cook their food and boil their tea. However, due to a combination of highly flammable eucalypt trees growing around the township, and its many wooden buildings etc., it was no surprise that dangerous fires featured in people’s experiences of Ballarat goldrush life.

1 December 1855: Got into Ballarat by the Red Streak (coach service) where we beheld the scene of last night’s fire. The American Hotel, the Adams Express premises and a clothing establishment next to it, and all along to the Charlie Napier which, God knows, had escaped. Several stores on the opposite side of the street had caught and were burned down. Report says eleven lives have been lost. The proprietor, Nicholls, was awakened by the noise and left his room. When he got into the lobby he recollected having left his pocket book with £90 below his pillow and returned to get it, but this delay cost him his life for he got so severely burned that he died about 9 o’clock this morning.Victorian Goldfields Diary, manuscript diary by an unidentified prospector on the Ballarat and surrounding goldfields during 1855–1856.

As a result of the danger that fire presented to the community, Victorian towns established dedicated fire brigades to tackle fires caused by campfires, candles, oil lamps and lightning strikes. In 1856 Ballarat’s first fire brigade was formed and relied entirely on volunteers. Horse-drawn hose carriages and water carts raced to a fire when the alarm bell sounded. To fight a fire, firemen used leather buckets, hooks, ladders and tomahawks. Water was very precious,so instead of using it to fight the fire they often tore down buildings in the path of the fire to stop its spread.

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The Yarrowee, an original, hand-operated pumping engine from the 19th century on display at Sovereign Hill.

Along with the famous burning down of James Bently’s Eureka Hotel in the lead up to the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, in 1859 the Ballarat Town Hall burned to the ground!

At Sovereign Hill we have built an Engine House based on a photograph of the nearby Smythesdale Fire Brigade Hall of the mid-1860s. The pumping engine it houses is an original Shand Mason hand-operated device, and is called the Yarrowee, probably after the nearby Yarrowee River. It was recently used during Fire Action Week to demonstrate how important fire fighters are in our community.

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association future fire plans

There is still a lot to learn about fire use and management here in Australia. As a result, members of our research team at Sovereign Hill are keen to test some land management techniques we think were used by Wadawurrung People in this region before European colonisation. At our 2000 hectare, historic pastoral property Narmbool, we are planning to control-burn a patch of grassland area to see if we can improve the growth of Kangaroo Grass. We hope this fire will also cause old seeds lying dormant in the soil to germinate and start growing interesting, indigenous plants that haven’t been seen on the property for over one hundred years. Many plants in Australia require fire to make their seeds germinate, they are called fire-promoting plants, like eucalypts. Other Australian plants are fire-tolerant, like grass trees, while others are fire-sensitive, like native orchids.

Links and references

Get prepared for bushfire season: https://schools.aemi.edu.au/bushfire/bushfires-be-prepared

A visual history of fire fighting in Victoria: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/history-timeline/

Ballarat Fire Brigade artefacts and photos: http://victoriancollections.net.au/organisations/ballarat-fire-brigade

A great article about Australia’s fire history: https://meanjin.com.au/blog/this-continent-of-smoke/

Wikipedia on the history of firefighting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_firefighting

The government Department of Primary Industries research into the effects of fire on Australian plants and animals:  http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/fire-and-emergencies/planned-burns/plants-and-animals

A CSIRO article about the differences between wildfires and “prescribed” fires: http://www.publish.csiro.au/onborrowedtime/docs/PCB_Ch11.pdf

Bradby, D. & Littlejohn, M. Our Stories: Life in Colonial Australia, Walker Books, 2015.

“Why do I have to learn about the Gold Rush?”

Naturally, at Sovereign Hill we think everyone should learn about the Ballarat Gold Rush. 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 Gold Rush, including some aspects that perhaps we are not so proud of…

The impact of the Gold Rush on our government

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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 Gold Rush (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 Gold Rush.

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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 Gold Rush 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 Gold Rush 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 Gold Rush, 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 Gold Rush 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 Gold Rush 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 Gold Rush 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.

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

This relates to the second negative consequence of the Gold Rush – 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 Gold Rush, the huge population increase the Gold Rush 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 Gold Rush 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 Gold Rush experiences of the Wadawurrung People called Hidden Histories.

So, do you think the Gold Rush 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSySV9xoHzg

A brief history of Ballarat: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat,_Victoria

Information about all of the Australian gold rushes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_gold_rushes

A wonderful interactive map of Australia’s gold rushes: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/GOLD_MAP.html

Some fascinating places to visit where you can learn more about the gold rushes: http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Goldfields/Things-to-do/History-and-heritage/Gold-rush-history

A video on the history of democracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7dTDjRnBqU&index=30&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtNjasccl-WajpONGX3zoY4M

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.

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 

1850s Transport

It is difficult to imagine life before cars, trucks, motorbikes and aeroplanes. Those who came to Australia during the gold rush however, travelled here, explored the place, and moved huge quantities of cargo long before the car, truck, motorbike and aeroplane were invented. How did they do it?

Let’s examine the journey of an imaginary gold miner who we will call Mr Yuilisses, or Mr Y for short, to better understand 19th century transport technologies.

The year is 1852. Like many well-educated young men, Mr Y has decided to try his luck on the Australian goldfields. He lives in the UK in the “cottonopolis” of Manchester, the first industrialised city in the world, where he has been studying canal engineering. The first part of his trip involves taking a train west to Liverpool (the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, was the first intercity passenger rail line in the world). He says goodbye to his parents, who he is unlikely to ever see again, as for the majority of gold rush immigrants to Australia, this was a one way trip (Serle, The Golden Age, 1977, p. 382). He then boards a noisy, dirty, uncomfortable steam train. He decides not to get a first class ticket as he is saving his pennies for gold mining supplies. The train is still 5 times faster than getting to Liverpool by horse (Nicholson, Steam, Steel and Speed, 2008, p. 7). This relative ease of movement makes Mr Y very grateful for the Industrial Revolution!

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Opening Liverpool and Manchester Railway, 15th September 1830. Most train carriages had roofs by 1852, but they weren’t much more comfortable than this.

After a freezing, windy journey in an open carriage he alights at Crown Street Station in Liverpool. Next, he has to organise a ticket for a ship to the Antipodes (Australia). He decides to travel on a “clipper” – a very fast, yacht-like sailing ship – and gets his equipment for the long journey in order. While basic rations (food/water) are part of the ticket price, Mr Y needs to take clothes and his own bedding. If he were a woman and mother he would probably think to take some seeds or fruit tree seedlings to make sure his family are fed once they settled on the goldfields. However, Mr Y is going by himself, so he is more focused on gold than food and knows there will be plenty of mutton to be eaten in the new state of Victoria (only made separate from NSW in 1851). After all, until gold was “discovered” (by non-Aboriginal people) in 1851, Victoria’s main export was wool from the 5 million sheep farmed across the state.

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An 1855 poster advertising the Red Jacket clipper ship.

If Mr Y were extremely lucky, the clipper would take him from Liverpool to Melbourne in as little as 3 months. If he bought the cheapest ticket – in steerage, below the waterline at the very bottom of the ship – he not only risked his life through exposure to unhygienic conditions, but also a lack of air and potentially days of total darkness if the weather turned bad. Rarely were people in steerage class allowed to use candles or oil lamps in their highly flammable environment, even when the hatches were battened down (the openings in the deck for ventilation/sunlight were closed during storms). Buying a first class ticket didn’t make the journey much more comfortable. Read more about the horrendous conditions on 19th century sailing ships here and here.

When Mr Y arrives in Melbourne having survived his trying journey via the Great Circle Route (one of the most dangerous parts of which was Victoria’s Shipwreck Coast– where 638 ships are known to have sunk!), safe and scurvy-free thanks to all of the lime juice he drank and pickled cabbages he ate (an idea of British Navy surgeon James Lind), everything in 1852 Melbourne costs a fortune! A bed for the night, supplies to take to the goldfields, even the cost of clean water was a rip-off… Of course the reason these “goods” (products) were so costly, was because most had made the long, expensive journey from the UK to the Australia just as he had. Little did Mr Y know such things were even more expensive on the diggings! Once he had stocked up on tent canvas, a mattress, a shovel, gold pans and a wheelbarrow, he would investigate how to get to Ballarat, and if indeed that was a good goldfield to venture to. In 1852 there was much talk among the people at the port that Ballarat’s gold had run out, and that the Bendigo Creek was a better bet. But who could you trust for such advice? If he selected Ballarat the journey could be shortened by taking a “steamer” (boat) from Melbourne to Geelong, which only takes half a day and shaves 3 days off the walk, but again the tickets were quite expensive.

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Map of the Roads to all gold Mines in Victoria, lithograph by J.B. Philp, 1853.

Our brand new, inexperienced gold miner Mr Y decides to head to Ballarat after all, and early the next morning he sets out with many others making the same journey. His expensive mattress becomes waterlogged after a big storm on the first day of the 113km walk, so he decides to abandon it along with the hundreds of other pieces of broken, spoiled, or foolishly heavy equipment others before him have dumped along the way. He wishes he had paid the ridiculous price to travel by wagon (or at least have his belongings sent by bullock dray) but the price was far too high. He had heard that the journey by wagon is so bumpy that most people end up walking anyway, as the jarring motion of the wagon makes many “seasick”.

While there is no actual road to the diggings of Ballarat, there is already a well-worn path that takes Mr Y past beautiful eucalypt forests, the likes of which he has never seen before. It takes him over hills and creeks (which he has heard are sometimes so deep and dangerous on the road from Geelong to Ballarat that you have to pay the local Aboriginal People to make bark canoes to get your mining gear across), and eventually he arrives within earshot in Ballarat on day 3 of his journey. He can barely sleep for all of the exciting noise he can already hear coming from the goldfield, now little more than a few miles (kilometres) away. If he had approached Ballarat from Geelong he would be staying in Mother Jamieson’s Inn just south of Mt Buninyong (in 1849 this was the “the busiest town in Victoria outside Melbourne and Geelong”), but instead he’s sleeping under the stars (close to the town we now know as Ballan), yet again.

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William Strutt, En route to the diggings, pencil and watercolour, 1851. Reproduced with the permission of the Victorian Parliamentary Library.

Mr Y finally arrives at the Ballarat diggings, and looks in wonder at the tent city in front of him, bursting with adventurers from all over the world. He lives in a tent for the first few months, then a slab hut, and then, once he finds a large gold nugget, he builds a house and gets married. Up until this point, his only means of transport around Ballarat has been his own two feet, but now he can afford to buy a horse to help with his mining work and deliver his children to school.

Horses were incredibly useful on the goldfields for both transport and work. Apart from being used to move people and cargo, they could also be attached to whims, Chilean mills and puddling machines to extract gold from mud, clay and rock. However, horses are dangerous, and back then were responsible for many deaths and injuries, and are still the most likely animal to kill you in Australia! In the 1860s, camels were imported to Australia for Burke and Wills ill-fated expedition, but there weren’t any in Ballarat at this time. As far as we know Ballarat has never had a resident camel!

After an exciting life of adventure, pioneering, and hard work to secure his family’s comfort, let’s imagine Mr Y dies in 1885, one year before the first car was invented. His great-grandchildren living in Ballarat would become the first of his descendants to own cars, as cars didn’t become popular and affordable here in Australia until well into the 20th century.

Links and References:

Sovereign Hill Education: Transport in the 1850s, Research Notes for secondary school students: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/sovehill-pdf-file/SovHill-transport-notes-ss1.pdf

Horrible Histories on the pioneers of transport: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLL2Txs8kCg

SBS Gold on goldrush transport: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=18

Clipper ship routes and records: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper_route

A fantastic blogpost about 1850-1870 ocean journeys to Australia: http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/websites-mini/journeys-australia/1850s70s/

Another which is terrifying!!: http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/websites-mini/journeys-australia/1850s70s/privies-and-hygiene/

“See the Land from an Aboriginal Canoe” – Aboriginal bark canoe technology was in high demand in the 1800s: http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/seeing-the-land-from-an-aboriginal-canoe/seeing-the-land-from-an-aboriginal-canoe/

Is your train commute quicker now than it was 100 years ago? http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/is-your-train-commute-quicker-than-90-years-ago-the-answer-might-surprise-you-20150219-13gx1c.html

The history of Australian immigration: http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/websites-mini/immigration-timeline/

Website on the last surviving clipper ship, City of Adelaidehttp://cityofadelaide.org.au/

An interesting article on scurvy: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/captaincook_scurvy_01.shtml

The introduction of cars to Melbourne: http://museumvictoria.com.au/marvellous/powered/car.asp

Henderson, W. F. and Unstead, R. J. Transport in Australia, A & C Black LTD., London, 1970.

Nicholson, John. Steam, Steel and Speed: Transport, Trade and Travel in Australia 1850s-1920s, Allen & Unwin, NSW, 2008.

Serle, Geoffrey. The Golden Age: A history of the colony of Victoria 1851-1861, Melb. Uni. Press, Vic, 1977.