Category Archives: then and now

Bad 19th Century Jobs – The Nightman

Nightman

One of Sovereign Hill’s (pretend) nightmen, about to dig out a (pretend) cesspit to stop the spread of (pretend) deadly disease.

Also known as a ‘night-soil remover’ (or in Tudor times, a ‘gongfarmer’), the nightman had one of the most revolting 19th century jobs imaginable – collecting human poo and wee for disposal. This stinky and dangerous job helped to keep cities safe from diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, while moving our waste to the outskirts of town before sewerage pipes did the waste removal for us. Like all physical jobs in the 19th century, this was a job for a man. Preferably a man without working nostrils!

Most days at Sovereign Hill, at 11.15 am, you can catch a street performance in Speedwell Street about the life of a nightman. This nightman is asked to clean out a ‘cesspit’, which means he has to dig all of the dangerous excrement out of an overflowing backyard poop-dump. At the beginning of the Australian gold rushes, the public management of human waste was pretty loose and experimental (and dangerous).

outhouse

One of Sovereign Hill’s exhibit outhouses just off Main Street. By ‘exhibit’, we mean that you can’t use it!

However, by the 1870s, many Ballarat families had built outhouses at the end of their gardens, which contained large buckets – or pans – which were accessible to the nightman via neighbourhood laneways (Bate, Weston. Lucky City, 1978, pp. 248-250,). Typically, members of such families would use a chamber pot indoors, and empty it into the outhouse pan for daily or weekly collection by the nightman. Some households built ‘privies’ or ‘boghouses’ instead, which were essentially drop toilets (where you do your business into a big hole) or were connected to a neighbourhood cesspit. Such large cesspits would need to be emptied by the nightman every couple of years to stop the dangerous waste from spilling into streets, cellars, and sources of drinking water.

 

chamber pot

See the chamber pot in-situ underneath a bed in Sovereign Hill’s Speedwell Street.

Nightmen typically did their work after dark, when the revolting odours that came with the job would least offend those living in the neighbourhood, although Sovereign Hill’s nightman is so busy he has to empty a cesspit during the day! In this performance, members of the neighbourhood claim this cesspit has caused an outbreak of disease. Waterborne infectious diseases spread very easily in the new cities created by the British Empire’s Industrial Revolution and Australian gold rushes, because many were built before we knew about germs (Germ Theory only began to challenge Miasma Theory [the idea that disease was spread by bad smells instead of tiny bacteria] in the late 1850s), and before flushing toilets, toilet paper, and sewerage pipes were invented. Drinking unboiled water in such towns and cities, which was pumped from the ground or collected from rivers/lakes, could easily spread deadly diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, which basically saw victims poo themselves to dehydration and death. Today, these infectious diseases rarely occur in Australia, but they are still common in developing countries where sanitation (safely managing human waste) remains a challenge for poor and heavily-populated towns/cities.

cart

The kind of cart typically used by a nightman to transport nightsoil, visible at Sovereign Hill behind the Ragged School across from the Bowling Saloon.

The nightman would empty an outhouse pan, or empty a cesspit using a bucket, into his horse-drawn tank. Once full, these tanks would then be taken out of town to be emptied on a paddock called a ‘night-soil depository’, or mixed in with other organic waste (food scraps, horse manure etc.). If the waste dried out reasonably well, it could then be placed in bags and sold to farmers as fertiliser for crops. Ballarat North, near the suburb of Nerrina, which is now covered in houses, used to be one of the main locations for dumping and drying Ballarat’s night-soil! Because of the high number of diseases carried in human waste, and the number of dangerous chemicals, medicines and hormones found in the poop of people today, human waste is no longer commonly used by Australia farmers to grow our food.

Satire-of-Thames-water

Check out this joke about London’s River Thames by William Heath, Monster soup commonly called Thames water, being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us!!! Hand-coloured etching, c. 1828. Reproduced with permission from the British Museum.

Today, some houses in Australia that are built too far away from big cities to be connected to neighbourhood sewerage pipes, store their stinky business in septic tanks buried in the garden. Depending on the design, these typically need cleaning every few years, but today we use specially designed ‘vacuum trucks’ and full-body safety equipment. This job used to require the nightman to get very close to the waste of others, but today it’s mechanised to keep workers well away from the dangerous do-dos. Almost all Australian houses located in towns and cities, in comparison, are connected to sewerage pipes, which became very common all across Australia from 1890 onwards. Up until this time, Melbourne was nicknamed ‘Smellbourne’, for good reason …

death-and-water
George J. Pinwell, Death’s Dispensary, Fun Magazine (1861-1901), 1866. A woodcut illustration depicting London’s often deadly water supply.

Ballarat now has 650kms of wastewater pipes under the city, and these take our waste to be treated at the Ballarat South Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Ballarat North Wastewater Treatment Plant, and another small sewage depository in Cardigan Village. Once treated, this waste water ends up in our local rivers and lakes, and eventually the ocean near Barwon Heads. But rest assured, by that time the water has been made safe enough to swim in … And believe it or not, the swan poo in Lake Wendouree is more likely to make the water dangerous than the treated human waste in there!

Links and References

A visual history of Ballarat’s waste water management: http://www.chw.net.au/sites/default/files/flash/treatment/history.html

Wikipedia’s Simple English Description of Germ Theory: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease

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

Horrible Histories on Gongfarmers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHFQ32PpSV4

A brief history of the flushing toilet: https://www.baus.org.uk/museum/164/the_flush_toilet

A great video on the history of disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PLBmUVYYeg

Toilets changed the world, but lots of people still don’t have access to one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWQG1YZS9l4

Bate, Weston. Lucky City, Melbourne University Press, 1978.

Life before plastic

parkesine

An example of 19th century nitrocellulose jewellery – if you rubbed it, it could explode! From Wikipedia Commons.

Many visiting students are shocked to learn that plastic didn’t exist in 19th century Australia. The Industrial Revolution, which began in England around 1750, encouraged the creation of many products which could be mass-produced in the newly-invented factories. Some plastic-like products – like fake ivory jewellery – were being produced as early as the 1860s, but the nitrocellulose from which they were made was extremely dangerous. Wikipedia says ‘When dry, nitrocellulose is explosive and can be ignited with heat, spark, or friction’! Therefore, the development of modern plastics (largely made from the fossil fuel crude oil) is a 20th century story. So how did people survive without plastic in the 1800s?

At Sovereign Hill, we have numerous garbage and recycling bins so our visitors can dispose of their rubbish responsibly, but these didn’t really exist in 19th century Ballarat. Before cheap plastics and paper (paper was expensive before we began making it entirely from wood pulp in factories), people rarely produced household waste. Items were reused and often re-purposed, and when they eventually fell apart, they would be disposed of in the fireplace or in the garden where most would biodegrade. Let’s describe a typical (European) family home’s production of waste over a normal goldrush day here in Ballarat to compare and contrast it to a family’s waste output today.

The family wakes at dawn (clocks were made of metal and were therefore expensive, so most people were woken by the sun). Their bedsheets were mass-produced in Manchester, England, from cotton shipped from the United States of America, and their woollen blankets were made in Bradford, England, from wool shipped from Victoria. If they were wealthy, they might also own a hand-made possum-skin rug, bought from the Wadawurrung people – these were sold on the Ballarat diggings for the equivalent of $4000-$5000 in today’s money! All of these items were made to last, and once they had reached the end of lives as sheets and blankets, they would be made into clothes or nappies (most 21st century nappies are made of plastic), used to stuff pillows, or as cleaning rags.

manchester from kersal moor by edward goodall c.1850

An industrial city indeed, full of cotton-spinning factories. Manchester from Kersal Moor, by Edward Goodall, c.1850. From Wikipedia Commons.

The house would be warmed by lighting a fire in the fireplace. This is also where the family meal would be prepared. Today, our energy is produced hundreds of kilometres away, by burning fossil fuels like coal or harnessing the energy of wind through turbines. Their fire fuel – wood – would be cut down from a nearby forest. Even the ash from the fire found other uses in 19th century Australia; ash could be used to make soap, polish metals, keep snails off the lettuce, fertilise the garden, or be used in the outhouse (also known as a ‘dunny’)!

clarke bros

Clarke Bros. Grocers at Sovereign Hill – sometimes we have to wrap food in plastic for safety reasons, even though it isn’t historically accurate.

A breakfast would be prepared using food grown in the garden, or bought at the local grocer’s (the supermarket wasn’t invented for another 70 years!). Most store-bought food would be sold wrapped in paper (often wax paper), or perhaps even weighed and placed immediately into the family’s cooking pot (made of local iron from Lal Lal) or bucket (often made of cheap leather at this time). Only (relatively expensive) preserves like jam or mustard would be sold in glass jars or ceramic (clay) pots. After the meal, food scraps would be used again in cooking (bones for making broth/soup) or fed to the family chickens/pigs/goats/dog. The wax paper would be reused to wrap other foods until it disintegrated (the invention of Tuppaware was nearly 100 years off) and it would then be thrown in the fire. Jars or ceramic pots would be saved for another household purpose. The plates used to eat such a meal would have most likely been made in Staffordshire, England from nearby natural clays, and then shipped (by wind/steam power) to Australia. Drinking water was collected from local rivers and groundwater pumps.

If children were lucky enough to be sent to school, there they would learn the ‘3 R’s’ (reading, writing, and arithmetic) using slate boards and graphite pencils (which would last many generations of students) in the younger years, and after Grade 4 would begin using paper, ink, and dip pens (but only if they passed the Grade 3 writing test – paper was too expensive to make inky mistakes on!). For most children except the very wealthy, 19th century toys were typically handmade from wood or animal bones (which are all biodegradable materials, unlike plastic). As school uniforms were yet to be invented, children simply wore their normal clothes to school.

howmuchclothingwasted

Clothes waste in the 21st century – a big problem because much of it will never biodegrade. From Wikipedia Commons.

While cloth for making things like sheets and clothing was getting cheaper in price thanks to the Industrial Revolution, most people – including children – merely owned two to three outfits at any one time. The wardrobe only became common in houses in the 20th century when ready-to-wear clothing became fashionable and was being produced very cheaply. Therefore, in the 19th century your clothing was cared for, and carefully patched and refitted, until the fabric disintegrated. Clothing was most commonly made of cotton (or sometimes other biodegradable natural fibres like wool or silk), whereas today lots of the clothing in your wardrobe is made of plastic.

While the children were at school, and wives/mothers busied themselves with 19th century housewifery, men would be at work. Most men in Ballarat worked in the goldmining industry, or in another industry that supported mining, such as a candleworks or foundry. These types of workplaces produced some waste (but nothing in comparison to most industries today!), and while some was biodegradable, some industrial waste from the 19th century is still causing pollution to Ballarat’s soil and waterways today (like arsenic from mining). The safety clothes men wore (if any!) were made from thick leather and would often last their entire working lives.

At lunch time, family members would return home for a hot meal prepared by the woman of the house. If the wife/mother had found the time to visit the grocer, baker, or butcher (all selling food produced locally – refrigeration wasn’t invented yet, so only dry food like flour, lentils and herbs could travel vast distances), she may have fresh food to serve the family. Otherwise, people ate preserved foods like salted meat, stewed fruits or re-hydrated beans. Fizzy drinks were invented in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that mass-produced glass and good sealing techniques made these beverages widely available. Dinner would be similar to lunch, and any leftovers would be saved for the next meal.

At night, candles made from animal fat (called tallow) would be lit if the family could afford it. Soap was also made from animal fat at this time. Again, today your candles and soaps are most commonly made of petrochemicals (taken from crude oil, the same as plastic).

PreCutProduce

A typical sight at the supermarket today – food wrapped in plastic. From Wikipedia Commons.

So, no plastic for covering or storing food, no plastic for toys, no clothes made from plastic, and no plastic safety wear at work. No drinks in plastic bottles, no plastic bags to carry the groceries, and no plastic pens and rulers etc. for school. This meant there was no need for weekly bin collections – because there were no bins! Life certainly was different in the 1850s.

Links and References

What is plastic?: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic

The history of waste management: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_waste_management

An ABC Catalyst episode on the arsenic in Ballarat’s soil: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2843289.htm

A 4-part vlog on life as an 1850s woman produced by Sovereign Hill: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/students/video/woman-of-the-hill/

A great documentary series about the history of the rooms of our houses (and many of the items you can find in them): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrn42rvTlpk

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!

hair

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.

vic1

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!

chinese-grant-070-80-2

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.

hair4

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

How to cook a gold rush feast

Supermarkets, refrigeration, and the food pyramid were invented a long time after the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850s. During this time in history, most food on the goldfields was either grown fresh in your garden, imported in a dried state (like rice, flour and lentils), or pickled/preserved (like jams, stewed fruit and tinned anchovies). Some bush foods were hunted down by miners or supplied to them by Aboriginal people, but most new arrivals to the diggings had to work hard for their dinner. The rich could afford healthier diets than the poor, but life expectancy (the average length of time that people live in a particular country) was quite low in comparison to Australia today. Poor nutrition, dangerous work and deadly diseases worked together to make life on the diggings relatively short and harsh.

life-expectancy

Australians now live much longer lives than they did during the 19th century thanks to improved diets and medicine. This graph shows how life expectancy has increased for both men and women between 1884 and 2009. Reproduced with permission of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

butchers-shambles-by-st-gill

S. T. Gill’s sketch of a ‘Butcher’s Shamble’ from 1869 demonstrates life before refrigeration and modern hygiene.

Most miners in 1850s Ballarat happily ate damper (campfire bread) and mutton (old sheep – ‘lamb’ means young sheep), as such a meat-heavy diet was only affordable to the rich back in Europe at this time. However, this diet isn’t very nutritious. It lacks important vitamins and minerals that the body needs, which can be found in fruit, vegetables and nuts. While such a limited diet will keep you alive, it can make your body – brains, bones, organs – age must faster than people who eat a broader range of foods. A diet of damper and mutton could make you more likely to get sick, and you would stay sicker for longer. However, the goldfields butcher wasn’t too worried about the nutrition of his customers – butchers were often the richest people on the diggings!

The reason sheep were so common on the diggings was because of Victoria’s earlier history of colonisation. The first European settlers/invaders, who arrived from 1835 onwards, were here on the grassy plains of Victoria to farm sheep. By 1851, the year the Australian gold rushes began, there were over 6 million sheep being farmed across the state (according to the National Wool Museum). The sheep farmers (often called ‘squatters’) realised that instead of boiling down their old sheep for tallow (fat for making soap/candles), they could sell them as food to the thousands of hungry miners. News of cheap meat on the Victorian goldfields attracted thousands of people to the diggings (Blainey, G. Black Kettle and Full Moon, Penguin Books Australia, 2003, p.197). Luckily, by the 1860s, the gold rushes had also attracted many Chinese miners, who used their farming experience to grow productive market gardens full of nutritious vegetables which would have improved the general health of many Victorians at this time.

alloo

S. T. Gill’s ‘John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant’ sketch from 1855 demonstrates the many contributions the Chinese made to diggers’ diet during the Ballarat gold rush. Reproduced with permission of the Gold Museum, Ballarat.

If a man had brought his mother/wife/daughter with him to the diggings, he was bound to have a better diet than a single man. Many goldrush women in the 1850s came to Ballarat very well prepared, as they brought bags of seeds and small animals with them to ensure the family didn’t starve (Isaacs, J. Pioneer Women of the Bush and Outback, Lansdowne Publishing Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1990, p.100).

Cooks didn’t use many utensils when creating meals over a camp fire, but a simple mixing bowl, knife and camp oven (also known as a Dutch oven) were all one needed for baking bread, roasting a leg of lamb, or making stews/soups. Next time you go camping, you could try cooking like a goldrush miner!

Here are some of our favourite 1850s goldrush recipes which you could try at home or school:

dampereggsp-soup2e-soup2dumplings

Links and References

Sovereign Hill’s other blogposts about goldrush food: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/03/19/what-was-eaten-on-the-goldfields/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/04/15/what-was-eaten-on-the-goldfields-part-2/#more-1069

SBS Gold on goldrush food: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=66

Goldrush food: http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00116b.htm

A great video about 19th century British diets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5dr8WSPhzw

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861), maybe the most famous cookbook of all time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs_Beeton%27s_Book_of_Household_Management

The British Library on food of the 1800s: http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/texts/cook/1800s2/18002.html

19th century menus: https://19thct.com/2012/08/11/a-menu-from-the-early-19th-century/

The most dangerous jobs in the 19th century: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glfVNlwv8bQ

Life for women on the early Ballarat goldfield: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf

Another webpage about the lives of goldrush women: http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00115b.htm

Changing mealtimes and their names in history: http://backinmytime.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/a-bit-about-meals.html

Fantastic BBC food in history documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7FRQjdSHWk

Blainey, G. Black Kettle and Full Moon, Penguin Books Australia, 2003.

Isaacs, J. Pioneer Women of the Bush and Outback, Lansdowne Publishing Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1990.

Childhood in the 1850s

Growing up on the Victorian goldfields was tough, even for children from rich families. If you had healthy parents, you could expect to have lots of brothers and sisters, and if they couldn’t afford to send you to school, you would be sent to work instead. Girls and boys experienced childhood quite differently back then, and if you had one or even two toys, you were a lucky child indeed!

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Ballarat Orphanage boot factory, date unknown. Reproduced with permission of the Gold Museum.

Life on the goldfields was dangerous for children. While falling down a mineshaft or being trodden-on by a horse was always a risk, the big killer of children was disease. In the 1850s, people – especially children – often died from diseases which rarely kill Australians today, like scarlet fever, pneumonia, diphtheria and consumption (tuberculosis). However, children were most likely to die from drinking water contaminated by human ‘poo’ … Horrible diseases like dysentery, cholera and typhoid killed thousands of children during the Victorian gold rushes. Until Germ Theory was developed and the flushing toilet introduced, such ‘poopy’ diseases could kill as many as HALF of all British children before the age of five! Parents sometimes died of diseases and accidents too, and life was especially tough for the orphans of the gold rushes. Fortunately, we had kind people (philanthropists) in Ballarat like Emanuel Steinfeld, who established a free school for local orphans during the gold rushes.

19th century goldrush families tended to be larger than Australian families today; having lots of children ensured that some survived to old age and were therefore able to look after their elderly parents (there was no pension to support senior citizens back then). Another reason for large families was tradition. Before the Industrial Revolution (c.1750-1900), most Europeans lived and worked on farms, and having lots of children meant that you had extra hands to help look after the animals and grow the food. That’s why many children worked in England’s factories at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It was absolutely normal for children to work and contribute to the household income. So, when Europeans moved to Victoria in their tens-of-thousands during the gold rushes, many brought this idea of working children with them. Young boys often worked in mines or as assistants to labourers and shopkeepers, while young girls would train as maids or seamstresses (women who sew clothes) but would only work until they were married (because after that they were expected to be full-time mothers and housewives).

lollies

Lollies – like our famous raspberry drops – were adult treats in the 19th century!

Eventually, people decided that childhood was a special time in a person’s life and should be dedicated to learning and play, which meant that sending a child to work became illegal. Nowadays, children in Victoria can’t legally work until they are 13 years old, and can only work then if they have a special ‘Child Employment Permit’ from the State Government. If you are 15 years or older, you are free to work without a permit.

Believe it or not, there was no free schooling in Victoria until the 1870s. So, if your family arrived in Ballarat in the 1850s, you would only be sent to school if your parents could afford the tuition costs. This meant that lots of poor children didn’t learn to read and write, and girls were often kept at home to learn the ‘art’ of housekeeping while their brothers received an education. If girls were sent to school, they often learnt different skills to the boys (they might learn cross-stitch while the boys learnt technical drawing). The girls were also encouraged to play different games to the boys during the breaks between lessons. ‘Graces’, for example, was a game specifically for girls. During the 1850s and 60s, it is thought that only half of Victoria’s children were lucky enough to get an education (Bradby, D. and Littlejohn, M., Life in Colonial Australia, Walker Books Australia, 2015, p.17).

costumed-school-students

Girls playing a gentle, ‘feminine’ game of Graces in the Sovereign Hill Costumed Schools Program.

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Women’s underwear in the 19th century: a corset, chemise and pantalettes.

Boys and girls wore very different clothes during the gold rushes, but only after a boy was ‘breeched’. Both boys and girls wore dresses until boys were toilet-trained and considered ‘ready’ for pants (in those days, boys’ pants were called knickerbockers). This ‘breeching’ often involved a little party to celebrate this rite-of-passage for young boys. Girls wore short dresses and smocks over their pantalettes (loooong white underpants) until the age of 12-14 when they would begin wearing women’s clothes like crinolines, corsets and long dresses. Not long after this, they would start looking for a husband … Young women usually married quite young in comparison to now, while young men waited until they had a good job and enough money to support a wife and children. Those who had been academic high-achievers at school could become teachers from as young as 14 years of age!

Being an Aboriginal young person would have been very difficult at this time also; by the 1850s, thousands of Victorian Aboriginal people had been forced off their ancestral lands by European sheep farmers and gold miners. Many Aboriginal people across Australia found it very difficult to practise traditional culture, and pass on their knowledge, skills and stories to the next generation thanks to the European colonisation of this continent.

So, if you could be born in another historical period, would you choose the 19th century? Why/why not?

Links and References

The history of child labour: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labour

Industrial Revolution English children – in their own words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87eVOpbcoVo

The history of the concept of childhood video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MqMuqJpVyM

The history of the concept of childhood on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood#History

Children on the goldfields: http://www.resourcesandenergy.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/109324/children-on-the-goldfields.pdf

More information about children on the goldfields: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/life-fields/children

School in the 1850s: http://www.myplace.edu.au/decades_timeline/1850/decade_landing_15_1.html?tabRank=3&subTabRank=2

Children’s fashion in the 1850s: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/11/26/gold-rush-babes-childrens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Women’s work in the 19th century: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/womens_work_01.shtml

Bradby, D. and Littlejohn, M., Life in Colonial Australia, Walker Books Australia, 2015.

Deary, T., Horrible Histories: Vile Victorians, Scholastic Children’s Books, London, 1994.

Fabian, S. and Morag, L., Children in Australia: An Outline History, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1980.

The 1850s – Then and Now

During the Victorian goldrushes of the 19th century, people lived very different lives to those Australians lead today in the 21st century. We can understand these differences by taking a look at some examples of technologies etc. which highlight what has changed in our lives between then and now.

Do you think you could have lived in the 1850s? What listed in the ‘Now’ column couldn’t you live without today?

Then

Now

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

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Electric refrigerator

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Wooden, bone, paper and metal toys

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

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Humorism – the belief that illness was the result of an imbalance in the four humors (4 bodily liquids: blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile). Imbalances were thought to be caused by bad smells called ‘miasma’

Germ theory – the understanding that most illnesses are caused by microorganisms (bacteria, like viruses, fungi etc.) that spread easily if you don’t wash your hands or carefully manage sewage

A wash board and clothes mangle

A washing machine and tumble dryer

Newspaper, leaves, smooth stones or even your hand!

Toilet paper

Corset – a tight-fitting piece of structured underwear mainly worn by ladies to secure and train the torso

Bra – a complex piece of ladies’ underwear designed to support the breasts

Long-handled toasting fork – used to hold bread close to the fire to toast it

An electric toaster

Tooth powder often made of chalk, charcoal or bicarb soda – the wealthy used a brush, the poor used a finger

Tooth paste – made available once flexible metal tubes were invented in the 1890s

Pantalettes – long cotton ladies underwear that are secured with a button/ribbon

Cotton, elasticated underpants for ladies

Anaesthetics were being invented in the 1850s – before then only alcohol or cocaine were available to help with pain during surgery!

Modern anaesthetics to make either a small part or the entire body ‘fall asleep’ and not feel any pain during surgery

Phrenology – a ‘science’ that uses the shape of the skull to explain personalities and behaviours of people

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

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Dresses for babies and small children – including boys, who might wear a sort of dress until they were ‘breeched’ (a rite-of-passage that allows boys to start wearing pants – there’s a boy in a dress in this S. T. Gill sketch)

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

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Click on the S. T. Gill sketch to enlarge

Trains and boats

Aeroplanes and cars

Leeches and amputation were used to treat infections (this is a real 1850s amputation kit…)

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

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Flat (or ‘sad’) iron which is heated on the fire

Electric steam iron that you fill with water and plug into the electricity outlet in the wall

Newspapers, the postal service and the electric telegraph

The internet and mobile phone technology

A fob or pocket watch (a watch on a chain/necklace) powered by daily manual winding

A battery-powered wrist watch

Candles and gas lights (which were highly explosive and killed lots of people in their homes)

Electric lights

Life has changed dramatically in the last 160 years. In that time, we have popularised world-changing ideas like germ and evolutionary theory, and we invented amazing technologies like electricity, the car and the internet. How do you think it will change in the next 160 years?

Links and references

An article about the big ideas that have changed our world: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jun/22/philosophy.plato

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

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

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

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