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The History of Victoria

How does the Ballarat gold rush fit into the story of the State of Victoria? Let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

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The Wadawurrung people have lived in the Ballarat region for tens of thousands of years. This map, produced by Sovereign Hill for its annual Aboriginal history and living culture celebration – The Gnarrwirring Ngitj Festival – shows the borders of the five Kulin nations.

Aboriginal people began living in what is now called Victoria at least 40,000 years ago (or possibly even longer!). According to their spiritual beliefs, creator-spirits like Bunjil the wedge-tailed eagle made the land and its people, and stories about him have been passed down (without writing) for at least 2,000 generations amongst the people of the Kulin nations (the Wadawurrung, Woiwurrung [Wurundjeri], Bunurong, Taungurong, and Dja Dja Wurrung). When Europeans arrived in Victoria in the 1800s, they found the Aboriginal people of this land had formed approximately 35 nations, all with different languages and cultures. Each nation owned and cared for their Country. The boundaries of each of these nations were carefully protected; however, goods like greenstone axes and brush-tail possum pelts used for making cloaks were traded over them. While some of these Aboriginal nations are traditionally enemies, others continue practising important ceremonies together (like the Kulin nations’ Tanderrum ceremony) to this day.

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Nathaniel Dance-Holland, Official portrait of Captain James Cook, 1775-6, from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

When Captain Cook claimed possession of what he called ‘New South Wales’ in England’s name in August 1770, he hadn’t set foot on the coast of what is now called Victoria. After England lost its northern hemisphere penal colonies (a place to send convicts) in the American War of Independence in 1783, it was decided that New South Wales, in Australia, was the next best place to send England’s criminals. England wanted to colonise (take over ownership of) the ‘great southern continent’ before the French. So, in 1787 King George II sent Captain Arthur Phillip to New South Wales with what came to be known as the ‘First Fleet’. Phillip’s ships arrived in Botany Bay in early 1788, but decided this was an unsuitable place for a settlement, so they sailed to Sydney Cove, in Port Jackson, and sent the convicts to shore on 26 January. This fleet of English ships only beat the French ships by a few days.

Before any Europeans arrived in Victoria, their contagious diseases spread out from Sydney to kill countless thousands of Aboriginal people across all of Eastern Australia. European diseases like chicken pox, small pox and even the common cold caused large numbers of Aboriginal people to die during this time in history, as their bodies had never been exposed to these germs before. Sadly, we will never know how many Aboriginal people were in Australia before Europeans arrived, and we will never know how many died from these diseases they brought.

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Young Bangladeshi girl suffering a smallpox infection, 1973. Reproduced with permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library.

Europeans explored the Victorian coast in the hope of developing a second Australian penal settlement and decided to send a small group of soldiers, settlers and convicts from England to set up a camp in Port Phillip Bay (of what later became Melbourne) in 1803. Again, this was an attempt to beat the French in taking over the lands of Australia. During their stay of less than 2 months, they clashed with local Aboriginal people, killing a Wadawurrung leader in Corio Bay in the process, making him the first Victorian Aboriginal person to die at the hands of the European colonisers. The camp failed as they ran out of fresh water, and a number of the convicts escaped before their ships left for Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania – it changed its name in 1856) to establish the second penal settlement there. One of those convicts – William Buckley – lived with the Wadawurrung people for the next 32 years.

TheLangingoftheConvictsatBotanyBay Watkin Tench 1789

Watkin Tench, The Landing of the Convicts at Botany Bay, from his book ‘A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay’. First published in 1789. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

The first European sent by the government from Sydney to explore (what came to be) Victoria was Major Thomas Mitchell. He met many Aboriginal people on his journey, but it would appear that, like many European people at the time, he didn’t view them as ‘inhabitants’. He described the view of Victoria from Pyramid Hill (near Echuca) in his diary in June 1836:

… the view was exceedingly beautiful over the surrounding plains. A land so inviting and still without inhabitants! As I stood, the first European intruder on the sublime solitude of these verdant plains, as yet untouched by flocks or herds I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes; and that our steps would soon be followed by the men and animals for which it seemed to have been prepared. See more Major Mitchell quotes here.

When he explored as far as Portland on the same expedition, he was surprised to discover European whaling ships there, and even a farm owned by the Henty brothers. When he returned to Sydney, he also discovered that John Batman, a Sydney-born free settler (with a reputation in Van Diemen’s Land for hunting and killing Aboriginal people), had signed a treaty with the Aboriginal people of Port Phillip Bay – the Wurundjeri people – in 1835. As a result, the European colonisation of Victoria had already begun; however, it is thought that Major Mitchell’s findings rapidly sped-up the process. You can read more about the ‘Treaty’ of Batman here.

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An artist’s impression of Batman’s Treaty with the Wurundjeri people in 1835 for the purchase of 600,000 acres of land. From Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, 2 vols, Picturesque Atlas Publishing Company, Sydney, 1886. (Vol 1, p161). Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

After 1835 and the arrival of thousands of European people, millions of sheep, instead of kangaroos, now fed on the grassy plains of Victoria. This new industry put Melbourne on the map as huge amounts of money were made by selling wool to the new factories in England. These sheep caused one of the most important foods for Victoria’s Aboriginal people – the murnong daisy – to nearly become extinct, and the European fences and guns caused a sudden end to the traditional way of life for the first people of this land. At least 68 massacres of Aboriginal people took place in the first 18 years of Victoria’s colonisation.

The arrival of these European sheep farmers – called squatters – caused a sudden change to Victoria, but that change was nothing in comparison to that brought about by the Victorian gold rushes.

The year 1851 is very significant in Victoria’s history. The Port Phillip District of New South Wales (Victoria’s colonial name before 1851) experienced a devastating series of fires in February called Black Thursday, thought by many to be the largest in known history. These fires killed 12 European people, 1 million sheep and countless native animals. In July, 1851, the Colony of Victoria was first established, named after the queen of the British Empire at this time – Queen Victoria. By August, gold had been found by European people, and newspapers all over the world spread the news – one of the world’s richest surface alluvial goldfields had been discovered in Ballarat (funnily enough at a place called Poverty Point, near to Sovereign Hill today). This new state, or ‘colony’ as it was known until Federation in 1901, would soon become the richest place in the world thanks to a few tonnes of shiny golden rock. That sudden wealth attracted another 500,000 people to the Colony of Victoria in just the first 10 years of the gold rushes (1851-61), which resulted in the speedy development of towns and trade.

The 19th century Victorian gold rushes changed this part of the world in dramatic ways and, to this day, Victoria is still benefitting from its rich gold rush history (and, of course, the echoes of the Eureka Rebellion). Once all of the easy-to-collect surface gold had been taken, mines were dug deep underground. And when they stopped producing ‘payable’ gold, towns and cities created by the Victorian gold rushes either turned their wealth to manufacturing or disappeared.

Today, Victoria has a population of a little over 6 million people (and more than 30,000 of these people identify as being of Aboriginal descent). While it is no longer the richest place in the world, it is still very wealthy, comfortable and safe because of its goldrush history. In the 21st century, Victoria’s most important industries are manufacturing, education, hospitality, tourism and construction, among others. Gold mining continues in Ballarat, although only one gold mine still operates.

Links and References

The European exploration of Australia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_exploration_of_Australia

The adventures of Major Thomas Mitchell: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mitchell_(explorer)

Victorian Aboriginal massacre map: http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-map/

The history of Ballarat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat

The history of Victoria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Victoria

A history of Victoria (1700s-1851) timeline: http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/Victoriasearlyhistory/timeline

The history of Melbourne: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne

The history of Tasmania: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tasmania

A video explaining the territorial history of post-colonial Australia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pjB8UrHwO4

A video on William Strutt’s famous painting Black Thursday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKaOtzFBR3Y

Life before plastic

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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’)!

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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.

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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).

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links and References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the Anti-Chinese League?

Every day at 12noon in Sovereign Hill’s Victoria Theatre, a group of the Outdoor Museum’s wonderful actors present a pretend community meeting called the ‘Anti-Chinese League’. What is it about?

The experiences of Chinese miners on the Victorian goldfields

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19th century Chinese gold miners. Artist and date unknown.

Most Chinese miners arrived in Ballarat in the late 1850s (their population peaked in 1857 at approximately 7,542, or a fifth of Ballarat’s population). These Chinese people were the only cultural group on the Victorian goldfields to be forced to live in segregated camps. At most, there were 6 Chinese camps in Ballarat during this time in history. These camps were often deliberately built (on guidelines from the British Government of Victoria, called the ‘Colony of Victoria’) in the worst parts of the settlement, usually at the bottom of a hill where all of the nearby human/animal waste would flow when it rained. This was one strategy the government used to try to discourage more Chinese from coming to Australia. The Chinese were quite determined to be successful in Australia however. So, many used this free ‘fertiliser’ to grow productive vegetable gardens.

The Chinese were also forced to pay a Residence Tax and Protection Fee to the government once they arrived on the goldfields, which at times was as high as $1,000 per month in today’s money! Again, they were the only cultural group in Victoria to be treated like this.

But worst of all, the government imposed an Arrival Tax that only applied to the Chinese. This tax of £10 would be equal to almost $10,000 today!! This huge amount of money was to be paid by every Chinese person who arrived by ship in Victoria. To avoid this tax, many Chinese miners arrived in Robe, South Australia, and walked from there to Ballarata distance of 400kms!

Why were the Chinese discriminated against?

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Typical living conditions for Chinese miners on the Victorian goldfields (visit Sovereign Hill’s Chinese Camp to see more examples like this). 

Today, Ballarat is proud of its multicultural community, but during the 1850s gold rushes there were many European miners on the diggings who wanted to keep Chinese people out of Australia. And, unfortunately for the Chinese, many members of the British Government of Victoria at this time also wanted them gone. By today’s standards, it could be said that many of these Europeans both in Ballarat and in the British Government of Victoria were quite racist towards the Chinese, and caused them to suffer both on the journey to Ballarat, and while they were searching for gold like the thousands of others on the Victorian diggings.

(A 21st century) Definition of racism

  • The belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.
  • Offensive or aggressive behaviour to members of another race stemming from such a belief.
  • A policy or system of government based on it.

(http://www.racismnoway.com.au/teaching-resources/factsheets/9.html)

Why does racism exist?

There were many cultural differences between Chinese and European people on the diggings. A fear of difference is often the cause of racism, and sadly this is true in Australia even today. People who look different to you, or practise a different culture or religion etc. are no better than you, no worse. They are just different. If everyone on Earth was the same, what a boring planet this would be!

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Students learning about Chinese religion on the goldfields at Sovereign Hill’s Joss House, located in the Chinese Camp.

Here’s a table demonstrating some key cultural differences between most Europeans and most Chinese in Ballarat in the 19th century. You can imagine that a 19th century European might have been shocked to meet a Chinese person for the first time, and visa-versa because of such cultural differences. This experience is called ‘first contact’.

Chinese miners

European miners

Chinese men wore their hair in long plaits called queues – Chinese law said they had to wear their hair like this. Most European men wore their hair neat and short unless they were really scruffy miners. Hair styles could depend on one’s social class.
The most popular religions in China during the gold rushes were Taoism, Chinese folk religion (ancestral worship), Chinese Buddhism, and Confucianism. Most Europeans were a kind of Christian: Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, Presbyterian etc.
Chinese miners typically wore silk or cotton outfits called tangzhuang or changshun and often wore no shoes or hats. European miners typically wore shirts, jackets, waistcoats and trousers made of cotton or wool, along with thick leather boots. They always wore hats when they were outside.
Most of the 1850-60s Chinese miners had a farming background and had lived in the countryside. Most of the Europeans had an industrial background and had lived in big cities.
Most of the Chinese here in Ballarat during the gold rushes spoke Cantonese. Most Europeans spoke English.

The British Government of 19th century Victoria was motivated to keep the Chinese out of Australia because Britain was at war with China over the sale of opium, a dangerous and addictive drug. The British wanted to sell (Indian) opium to the people of China in return for tea (the favourite drink of the British Empire) and silk, but the Chinese Emperor was worried about the high numbers of his people whose lives were being ruined by this drug. As a result, China and Britain (with the help of France the second time) fought two ‘Opium Wars’, the first from 1839-42, and the second from 1856-60.

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Sovereign Hill celebrates Chinese New Year every year to acknowledge the Chinese community’s contribution to 19th century Victoria. 

The main reason the government ultimately chose to make life difficult for the Chinese in Australia was due to loud, but small groups of Europeans on the various Victorian diggings who often called themselves an ‘Anti-Chinese League’. They complained about the Chinese so much that the government felt it had to do something. Here are some of the main arguments used by racist European miners etc. which encouraged the government to create policies like the Arrival Tax and the Residence Tax (apart from using it as a general way to make money through taxes, like a Gold Licence [before 1854], for example).

The text in italics represents the kinds of opinions held by members of the Anti-Chinese League.

More detail on these complaints from Europeans can be found here.

Sadly, many Chinese miners on the Australian goldfields experienced violence at the hands of Europeans who held these racist views. Some even had their queues (long hair braids) cut off, and occasionally they were even scalped!

The Anti-Chinese League (pretend) meeting at Sovereign Hill

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Sovereign Hill’s actors hard at work.

Sovereign Hill’s talented actors perform this pretend Anti-Chinese League meeting and talk to the audience afterwards to explore this dark, racist part of Victoria’s history. Many audience members are shocked by what they hear our actors say during this performance, but ultimately it gives people the opportunity to think about and discuss the dangerous impact that racism can have on Australia.

Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, come along and see this provocative performance for yourself!

Links & References

A great video about the common experiences of Chinese people on the goldfields: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFEbNtTf4l4

Anti-Chinese League Meeting at Sovereign Hill Debriefing Notes and Questions for Teachers: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Anti-Chinese-League-Meeting-atSovereign-Hill.pdf

Research notes for primary students made by Sovereign Hill Education: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-Chinese-notes-ps1.pdf

For secondary students: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-chinesesballarat-notes-ss1.pdf

Sovereign Hill Education’s free ‘Chinese on the Goldfields’ teaching kit: https://www.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/New-Gold-Mountain.pdf

The State Library of Victoria study notes on Victoria’s 19th century Chinese community: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/life-fields/chinese

A summary of the Australian gold rushes, with detail on the racism experienced by the Chinese: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-gold-rush

SBS Gold on the experiences of the Chinese: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=46

A newspaper article which provides a fascinating insight into 19th century racism in Australia towards Chinese people: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4090625

Sovereign Hill Education notes for students on some of the most interesting goldrush characters from Ballarat, including John Alloo (successful restaurant owner, and Ah Koon (Chinese Camp Headman and interpreter): http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Characters_of_the_Goldfields.pdf

Details on the violent riots against the Chinese that happened across Australia in the mid-19th century: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=56

A video on the Chinese history of Bendigo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO2JUIoC82E

The history of Chinese Australians: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Chinese_Australians

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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).

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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).

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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