Category Archives: victorian history

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).

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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.

What’s it like to work in a museum?

 

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We have lots of lolly-makers on staff!

Many students who visit Sovereign Hill tell us they would love to work in a museum when they grow up. What kinds of jobs can you do in a museum and how do you get one?

All museums in Australia employ people to do lots of different kinds of jobs, from curators who create beautiful exhibitions of artefacts (rooms creatively filled with artefacts that tell fascinating stories), to marketing managers, educators, cleaners, historians, volunteer coordinators and much more!

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One of our many musicians who play music in the street.

However, Sovereign Hill is a bit different to most museums in Australia because it’s a living, or outdoor museum. This means it doesn’t really tell stories using artefacts behind glass cases. Instead, at Sovereign Hill we use costumed characters, homes and shops you can visit, and hands-on activities like gold panning to teach people about Australia’s gold rush history. This means Sovereign Hill employs a small village-worth of people with many different skills – and that’s because we practically are a small village! We have about 300 staff members and as many volunteers, some of whom you see dressed in 1850s fashion in the streets or in the shops, while others are hidden ‘behind-the-scenes’, working on things like museum management, visitor safety, advertising, website design and creating education resources.

Many people want a job in a museum because they’re such interesting places to work. This means each advertised museum job usually has lots of applicants, making it a very competitive industry. So, if you want to work in a museum, you need to dream big! There are members of staff at Sovereign Hill who began their museum careers as volunteers or work-experience students, and are now working as part of the professional museum team. So achieving your goal of working in a museum is definitely achievable.

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Our Collections Manager taking students for a back-of-house tour at the Gold Museum.

If you would like to become a museum curator and manage/create museum exhibitions (like Bunjilaka at Melbourne Museum, for example), you need to be an organised and creative person. You should go to university to study ‘Museum Studies’ or ‘Cultural Heritage’, to a postgraduate or masters level (this means you will spend at least 4 years at university). Any of these qualifications may help you get a job in a museum as a curator.

If you would like to become a collections manager, which means you take care of the artefacts a museum has to look after (a little bit like a librarian), you need to be systematic and good at problem solving. You should get a similar qualification to a curator.

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One of our education officers teaching students about chamber pots.

If you would like to become a museum educator, which means you create and teach lessons to school students visiting the museum, you need to be good at public speaking and time management. Most museum educators are qualified teachers, which, in Australia, means that you have been to university for at least 4 years. The Sovereign Hill Museums Association’s 11 educators (working across the Sovereign Hill Outdoor Museum and Narmbool) studied many different subjects at university; some are History teachers, while others are Science, Literature or P.E. teachers, which means they all bring different skills to the job.

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Some actors dressed as Redcoat Soldiers.

Sovereign Hill also has a large number of talented actors who perform in the streets and in the Victoria Theatre. Many of these actors are currently studying or have already completed a university degree in Drama, also known as Performing Arts. Sometimes it can be difficult for actors to find work, but if you get a job at an outdoor museum like Sovereign Hill, you could be acting in historical costume every day – in the street, in pantomimes, and in conversations with visitors during which you have to stay in 1850s character (so, no talk of Minecraft, cars or telephones!). Some of our wonderful actors have been working here for more than 20 years, which means it’s probably safe to say that they really enjoy their jobs!

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Blacksmithing is a rare trade in the 21st century.

Some other jobs that you won’t find in too many other museums are the jobs of Sovereign Hill’s rare tradespeople. The living museum features technology from the 19th century, like boilers and steam engines, and therefore jobs that don’t exist in too many other places in 21st century Australia. If you want to be a blacksmith, 19th century steam engine mechanic, or driver of a horse-drawn coach, Sovereign Hill is the workplace for you! Most of these professionals were given on-the-job training here at Sovereign Hill, because it’s hard to learn these skills anywhere else. Similarly, we have a highly-skilled Costume Department, the members of which have university qualifications in Fashion or Textile Design, but they also learn a lot on-the-job because there aren’t too many places making Redcoat Soldier outfits, or 1850s bonnets these days.

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Our photographer hard at work.

Additionally, Sovereign Hill is lucky to have a team of very skilled builders and (modern) tradespeople, to keep our museum looking just like Ballarat did in the 1850s. We also have a large staff of hospitality workers and cleaners, receptionists and salespeople. Our Design Department makes all of our 19th and 21st century signs and advertising, and the Marketing Department manages visitors from all over the world and runs special events like ‘Winter Wonderlights’. We have people who design and care for our beautiful gardens, photographers who take your stylish 1850s photo, food technologists who create new lolly flavours, administrators, volunteer coordinators, bookings officers, historians, animal handlers, hotel managers, IT magicians, and horse-pooper-scoopers.

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Our wheelwrights ‘hot tyring’ a coach wheel.

There really is a job for everyone at Sovereign Hill!

If there’s a Sovereign Hill, Gold Museum or Narmbool job that you would like to know more about, let us know in the comments below.

Links and References

The Sovereign Hill Careers webpage: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/sovereign-hill/careers-at-sovereign-hill/

A good, general overview of how to get a museum job: https://www.museumsassociation.org/careers/getting-a-first-job

Tips on securing that dream museum job: https://www.thoughtco.com/getting-a-job-in-the-museum-world-182416

Deakin University’s popular master’s degree in Cultural Heritage: http://www.deakin.edu.au/course/master-cultural-heritage

Keep an eye on advertised jobs in museums, galleries etc. here: https://www.museumsaustralia.org.au/positions-vacant

Information from Museums Victoria about getting a job at the Melbourne Museum, Immigration Museum, Bunjilaka, Science Works or the Royal Exhibition Building: https://museumvictoria.com.au/about/work-opportunities/employment/

Information about jobs at the Australian Museum in Sydney: https://australianmuseum.net.au/working-at-the-australian-museum

Job opportunities webpage at Ballarat’s MADE (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka): http://made.org/about/careers/

The National Museum of Australia (Canberra) employment webpage: http://www.nma.gov.au/about_us/employment

The MASS (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney – which oversees the management of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Observatory and the Museums Discovery Centre) employment webpage: https://maas.museum/careers/

The Australian National Maritime Museum (Sydney) employment webpage: http://www.anmm.gov.au/about-us/who-we-are/work-with-us

The Australian War Memorial (Canberra) employment webpage: https://www.awm.gov.au/get-involved/work-or-volunteer/employment

A thorough ‘How To’ for museum job applications: http://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/industry/museum-careers-advice-apply-jobs/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Wadamap

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.

smallpox

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.

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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