Category Archives: STEM in history

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.

Gill

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/

The Science of Gold

What is gold and why do we like it so much? In response to the many questions we receive like this from visiting students during our education sessions, let’s explore the origins of gold and our fascination with it.

Where does gold come from?

Humans can’t make gold, although many in the past have tried. And the Earth can’t make more of it even if we wait a couple of billion years. Only recently did scientists confirm the long-held theory that gold is created by the universe during supernovae (when neutron [dying] stars explode/collide). These violent astronomical events produce lots of the heavy metals we now use for things like ‘bling-y’ jewellery, as well as microcircuits for electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Gold can even be used in food like this burger, which costs $AU81! This great video explains the creation of gold really well.

All

People today use gold for all kinds of weird and wonderful things. We hope the 24 karat gold toilet paper isn’t a real thing. Pictured are gold pizza, gold sushi, a gold facial, gold toilet paper, a gold doughnut, a gold cappuccino, gold flies for fly-fishing, a gold turkey, and the $AU81 gold burger!

Neutron stars are the densest objects in the known universe, and when their super-hot collapsing cores explode or smash into one another, they create elements like gold and silver. It is believed that such an event or series of events in the distant past created meteors containing gold and silver which then fell to Earth, delivering the precious heavy metals that adventurous miners sought to dig out of the ground in places like Ballarat and Bendigo during the 19th century. According to some research published in 2011, a meteor shower about 4 billion years ago dumped 20 billion billion (Wow!! That’s a big number!) tons of gold and other precious metals on our planet!

The chemical symbol which you find on the periodic table for gold is Au (from the Latin word aurum meaning ‘shining dawn’). As gold is an element, it can’t be broken down into other substances, which is the reason humans can’t make gold themselves (although with the development of nuclear chemistry, one day we might figure it out).

Why do we like gold so much?

Many cultures around the world for at least the last 8,000 years have used gold for things like decoration/art, religious ceremonies, false teeth, currency, sporting medals, medicine, and more recently in human history, electronics and satellites. It is useful to us because it never goes rusty, it’s soft and easy to shape, it conducts heat really well, and it’s a beautiful colour. In scientific language, we describe gold as being dense (that’s why it’s heavy), malleable (soft and easy to bend) and lustrous (shiny).

While some cultures have used it for thousands of years, others have not. For example, the Aboriginal people of Ballarat – the Wadawurrung people – knew of the gold that could easily be picked up from the ground across Western Victoria, but instead they valued much more practical and sustainable natural resources like brushtail possums, and certain kinds of stones useful for tool making. You can learn about how gold has been used by many cultures here.

One of the main reasons we like gold today is because it’s rare. If all of the gold found on Earth were collected together, it would only fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools! If it were more common and easy to find, it wouldn’t be worth anywhere near as much money as it is today. The price of gold changes day to day, depending on how much is being dug out of the ground, and the number of people keen to buy the gold (the demand for it). The price of gold today (9/2/18) is $54.52 per gram, or to state the value in the unit of measurement more commonly used to weigh gold, it’s currently worth $1,695.97 per ounce (1 ounce = 31.1 grams). You can find the current price of gold here: https://goldprice.org/

Ballarat is an alluvial goldfield, basically meaning that our gold has been brought here and is moved around by water (including underground rivers) and is often on the surface or not far beneath it. For miners in Ballarat at the beginning of the gold rush (from 1851 until about 1853), this meant they didn’t have to dig very deep underground to find big gold nuggets. By the 1860s most of that easy-to-find gold near the surface was gone, meaning miners had to dig much deeper underground to continue finding payable (enough to make a profit) amounts of the precious yellow metal. This is when deep lead and quartz mining really took off in Ballarat.

The gold miners who came to Ballarat largely used gold to buy better lives (better clothes, housing, food, investments etc.) and the majority of the billions of dollars of gold found here was turned into gold sovereigns (English money made of gold, after which our museum – Sovereign Hill – got its name) or gold ingots (gold bars). Some however, was turned into spectacular, flashy pieces of jewellery, and even the beautiful mayoral chains owned by the City of Ballarat!

If you visit a jewellery store, you will notice items made of gold are usually described as ’18 karat gold’ or ’10 karat gold’. A karat is a unit of measurement which explains how much gold was mixed into the alloy (a mixture of metals) that have gone into the making of that piece of jewellery. A carat is used to value gemstones and pearls. 18 karat gold jewellery has a higher amount of gold in it than 10 karat gold jewellery, which is why it is always more expensive. If, say, a ring is made from 24 karat gold, it is pure gold – but of course this would make it an easily bent piece of jewellery!

The Castlemaine Goldfields is the only mining company in Ballarat still successfully finding payable gold underneath the city. There is still a lot of gold in the ground in this part of Victoria, but it’s very difficult and expensive to get out of the ground.

Links and References

TED Ed on the chemistry and origins of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf_4z4AKwJg

Sovereign Hill research notes for students about the different kinds of mining common in Ballarat in the 19th century: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/sovehill-pdf-file/SovHill-mining-notes-ss1.pdf

Some great facts about gold: https://www.livescience.com/39187-facts-about-gold.html

A report on the recent confirmation that gold is produced by supernovae: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/uoc–asc101517.php

A fantastic explainer video on the creation of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iaviqwMfJ0

How the gold karat system works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fineness

Gold in antiquity: https://www.ancient.eu/gold/

A video explaining why we use gold for currency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18yIHCSemhs

How NASA uses gold for space exploration: https://curiosity.com/topics/nasa-uses-gold-on-its-spacecraft-curiosity/

Should we eat gold?: http://www.foodandwine.com/news/is-gold-safe-to-eat

Gold according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold

What is more valuable than gold?: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-is-rarer-than-gold-45073180/