Tag Archives: Australian History

Costume at Sovereign Hill: The Redcoat Soldiers

When you visit Sovereign Hill, you see lots of different kinds of costumes being worn by the staff and volunteers in the streets, shops and on the diggings. All our costumes tell stories about the kind of people who were really here in Ballarat in the 1850s. Some of our most photographed costumed characters are the Redcoat Soldiers, who tell the story of the British Army’s role in 19th century Victoria.

Redcoat9

Sovereign Hill’s daily Redcoat Soldiers parade.

Students often ask, ‘Why are they wearing bright red jackets? Soldiers today wear camouflage to hide in the bush, but a red jacket can’t hide you anywhere!’. These jackets, which are actually called coatees, were red for a number of reasons:

Redcoat1

A diagram explaining the different parts of a Redcoat’s uniform. Click on the image to enlarge.

The Redcoat Soldiers played an important role in the Eureka Rebellion and their daily parade around Sovereign Hill is one of our most popular events. We need to keep them looking ‘spiffy‘, so our Costume Department recently began a big project to make new uniforms for our hard-working soldiers.

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The two ‘tails’ on a coatee.

Every time our Costume Department makes a new outfit for one of our staff or volunteers, the team starts by doing some research. There are lots of paintings, photographs and written descriptions of the Redcoat Soldier uniforms, which help us re-create their outfits to look just like the real ones worn in the 1850s. We were very lucky in this instance to find a real 1840s-50s Redcoat coatee in the collection of a local history buff, which revealed secret pockets inside the coatee ‘tails’! We think these would have been used for storing gloves and hiding important documents. Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, ask a Redcoat soldier what he hides in his secret tail pockets.

This very old, fragile coatee also helped us understand what the lining and internal structure of the coatees should be, which not only makes them more comfortable for the people wearing them, but also makes those people look more muscular and broad-shouldered.

Redcoat3

The internal structure of a coatee.

The coatee was designed to make the chest of the man wearing it (only men could be in the British Army in the 19th century) look like a triangle (women desired to be hour-glass shaped), and epaulettes would be attached to the shoulders to make them appear even bigger. If you were an important officer in the regiment (team of soldiers), you would have received a ‘uniform allowance’ as part of your wages which you could use to decorate your coatee further.

shako

Left: An 1850s shako. Right: Sovereign Hill’s re-created shako.

The Sovereign Hill Costume Department have now created three different kinds of Redcoat uniforms for our daily parades: an officer’s uniform (in scarlet red), and soldiers’ uniforms and a drummer’s uniform (in madder red).  We were able to achieve the correct coatee colouring thanks to information from a uniforms supplier in England which has been making outfits for the British Army since the Battle of Waterloo – more than 200 years ago! Many details like buttons, pom-poms and embroidered trimmings for the new costumes had to be made by hand by skilled craftspeople, which took a lot of hard work to organise. Re-creating the hats – or shakos – presented one of the biggest challenges to the Costume team, but the new Redcoat costumes are nearly finished and ready for the daily parade.

Redcoat8

Drummers wore heavily-decorated uniforms.

All of our costumes tell stories about the history of clothing dyes, innovations in sewing techniques and machines, and developments in the manufacture of textiles, as well as showcasing the fashions of the time. The popular fashions of the 1850s also tell stories about community values and ideas about masculinity and femininity. What do your clothes say about you and the community you live in?

Links and References

Read about the role of the Redcoat Soldiers in the Eureka Rebellion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2011/08/15/the-redcoats-connecting-history-lessons/

Sovereign Hill’s Redcoats firing their guns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loLdcXa0_w8

A wonderful V&A webpage about 19th century fashion: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/0-9/19th-century-fashion/

Learn about ladies’ weird 1850s underpants…: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/09/06/gold-rush-undies-womens-fashionable-underwear-in-the-1850s/

What did children wear during the gold rush? https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/11/26/gold-rush-babes-childrens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Men’s 1850s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/07/17/gold-rush-beaus-mens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Women’s 1850s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/28/gold-rush-belles-womens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

The British Army during Queen Victoria’s reign: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Army_during_the_Victorian_Era

A social story for ASD students preparing for a Sovereign Hill visit: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Here_come_the_Redcoats.pdf

Goldrush Immigration – Push and Pull Factors

To understand the thousands of people who chose to come to Ballarat during the gold rushes, we need to look at their motivations for leaving home for the dirty diggings. When gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851, there were about 80,000 people living in Victoria. You can fit more than that in the MCG today! The population increased dramatically over the next ten years; by 1861, there were more than 500,000 people here! While most no doubt had their own unique, personal reasons for moving to Victoria during this time, let’s take a look at some of the things that may have pushed people out of their homes and pulled them towards gold mining towns like Ballarat.

Push factors’ – things that push people away from their homes – include wars, natural disasters, food/water shortages, a lack of paid jobs, and nasty community leaders. For example, if your country runs out of food and your family is hungry, you might decide to move to a new country where your family is less likely to suffer hunger again. This means that food shortage is your motivation to move; it’s the push factor for you and your family.

78.0973 Raffaello Carboni

 

The Australian gold rushes attracted lots of interesting characters – this is Raffaelo Carboni, a miner from Italy, who was in Ballarat around the time of the Eureka Rebellion.

 

Pull factors’ – things that pull people to a new home – include safety, food/water security, good job opportunities, and good community leaders. For example, if there’s not much opportunity for you to get a good job in your country, you might decide to move to a country with a strong economy and low unemployment, where you have a high chance of getting a great job. This means that good job opportunities is your motivation to move; it’s the pull factor for you.

The chance of finding a huge Ballarat gold nugget (which could make you so rich that you never had to work another day in your life), was a HUGE pull factor for people who wanted to improve their lives in the 1850s and 1860s. Thousands of people from all over the world heard about Ballarat’s rich alluvial goldfield and decided to try their luck on the diggings.

The kind of people who came in search of gold were usually young and usually male, but of course many brought their families. This gold-seeking adventure was often a one-way trip, and the work was hard and dangerous. Most people who came to Ballarat during the gold rushes were motivated by more than just gold – there were lots of push and pull factors for each person!

If you were from England, things that may have pushed you to Australia might have included overpopulation (lots of English cities were very crowded at this time thanks to the Industrial Revolution), limited social mobility (little chance of improving your life; if you were born poor in England in the 1850s, you were likely to stay poor, no matter how hard you worked) and frustrations with the government (the ‘Chartists’ were trying to improve democracy during this time in English history, but weren’t having much luck). Pull factors for the English, apart from gold, could have included Australia’s good weather (lots of English people still come for this reason), and the chance to buy land (almost impossible back in England, unless you were extremely rich).

Peter Lalor (Montrose Cottage Collection)

 

Peter Lalor, leader of the miners in the Eureka Rebellion, moved from Ireland to Ballarat in 1852.

 

If you were from Ireland, the biggest push factor at this time in history would have been the ‘Great Hunger’ (also known as the Irish Potato Famine). Between 1845 and 1852, over one million Irish people died of starvation due to a disease called potato blight which destroyed their main food source: the potato. As a result of the Great Hunger, two million Irish people left Ireland and never returned – some moved to the United States of America and Canada, while many others came to Australia, in particular to Ballarat.

If you were from Scotland in the 1850s and you were the second son in your family, your big brother got to keep the family home and any land your family owned. That meant second sons had to make their own fortunes. This could have been one of the main push factors for the Scottish.

If you were from China, it was likely you were a peasant farmer in the 1850s. At this time in China, you didn’t have much chance of improving your life (limited social mobility), and opium was a big social/health problem (thanks to the [English] East India Company – who bought this highly addictive drug from India to sell in China for huge profits). This led to two wars between England and China during this time. These were the major push factors
for the Chinese miners. While gold was the major pull factor, the Chinese commonly had a different motivation than the Europeans when it came to spending their gold wealth. The Europeans tended to find gold to benefit themselves and their families, and many decided to stay in Australia after finding their fortune. The Chinese instead tended to find gold to take home to benefit not just their families but their entire villages; Chinese communities often worked together to pay for a ship ticket for just one or two miners, so that any gold they brought home was for the benefit of everyone. Some historians say that most of the Chinese miners were not really immigrants for this reason.

99_0114 John Alloo's

 

John Alloo, from China, owned one of the first restaurants on the Ballarat diggings.

 

If you were from the United States of America, it was possible you had been a miner in the 1849 gold rush in San Francisco, California, or wished you had been. The pull factor of gold was probably the main reason Americans came to Ballarat.

If you were an Aboriginal Australian, you may have been on the Ballarat goldfield because this had been your family’s home for thousands of years, or you may have come from another part of Victoria as you had been forced off your homelands by invading farmers and miners. In terms of pull factors, some Aboriginal People did make money from gold during the gold rushes, while others worked as Native Police or farmhands. However, Aboriginal People had few choices at this time in history; it was very difficult to live their traditional lives any more whether they were on their homelands or not, thanks to the changes the new arrivals introduced.

STG Kangaroo Stalking

 

Without the help of Aboriginal People, many new arrivals to Victoria would have perished in the harsh conditions of 19th century Australia.

 

Australia – in particular its population – changed dramatically during the Victorian gold rushes of the 1800s. When did your family arrive in Australia? If you’re an Aboriginal Australian, your ancestors may have arrived 60,000 years ago. If your ancestors were convicts sent to Sydney, Hobart or (later) Western Australia, they may have arrived around 230 years ago. If your ancestors came during the gold rushes, they may have arrived 160 years ago.

Regardless of when your family arrived, the Australian story is a story of immigration.

Links and References:

A great TEDed video about push and pull factors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdtQgwOOiBg

An overview of the impact of the Australian gold rushes: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-gold-rush

Simple English Wikipedia on the Great Hunger: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Potato_Famine

Why do famines happen? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgae8SA-rcI

The influence of the Irish on Ballarat: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2014/07/09/goldfields-immigration-3/

The influence of the Scottish on Ballarat: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/06/24/goldfields-immigration/

The influence of the Jewish on Ballarat: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2014/03/31/goldfields-immigration-part-2/

Research notes about the experiences of the Chinese in 19th century Ballarat: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-chinesesballarat-notes-ss1.pdf

The impact of the Victorian gold rushes and 19th century immigration on Aboriginal People: http://sovereignhillhiddenhistories.com.au/

Australia’s immigration history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_history_of_Australia

 

1850s Transport

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

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

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

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

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

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An 1855 poster advertising the Red Jacket clipper ship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links and References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Sovereign Hill is a museum!

lollies

Hard-boiled lollies YUM!!!

Many of our guests – young and old – get confused about Sovereign Hill. Some people think that it is a theme park because panning for gold, eating lollies and riding in horse-drawn carriages is so much fun. However, Sovereign Hill is actually a museum, meaning it is a place where Ballarat’s history is studied, artefacts are collected, and Australia’s gold story is shared with visitors. Most museums tell their stories through displays in glass cases, but we teach visitors about the past through living exhibits.

Why does Sovereign Hill do this?

The first part of the answer challenges us to think about the purpose of studying history – why learn about the past? History helps us understand who we are; it explains why we speak the language we do, why we dress a certain way etc., and it also helps us understand the wider world and our place in it. It teaches us to avoid repeating the mistakes that others have already made, and to appreciate all of the good things about 21st century life. History also helps us see that there are other ways of living, of organising our society, of thinking about ourselves, and that things can and do change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Also let’s not forget all of the weird and wonderful characters, events, technologies and fashions from the past that make people of all ages giggle and gasp!

Why is Sovereign Hill a museum with living exhibits such as costumed people, fragrant horse poo and a creek complete with real gold? Because we think this is the most engaging and exciting way to learn about history. When you step through our gate you are sent 160 years back into the past, to a world of dirty miners, daggy troopers (policemen), and impractically-dressed but pretty ladies in big crinolines. Instead of looking at a display in a glass case, you get to talk to our costumed staff to learn about the past – do stop to have a chat, they are all very friendly!

gold panning

“Eureka!! I found some gold!”

Play is another important part of our living museum – try your hand at gold panning, go bowling, or make a candle. You can also taste history here – try some goodies from the bakery, or a lolly, or five. Lastly, you can smell the past – the lovely perfumes of the Apothecary (known in modern times as a pharmacy/ chemist) on Main Street were actually believed to prevent sickness! You will have so much fun in our museum that you won’t even realise you are learning. We believe that is the best way to make learning about the gold rush era stick in your head.

butcher's shambles

“Butcher’s Shambles” by S. T. Gill. You can find our Butcher’s Shambles at the bottom of the Red Hill Gully Diggings.

Of course not all of our exhibits are completely accurate for very practical reasons. If our museum really smelt like Ballarat did during the gold rush, you wouldn’t come. Nobody would! In the very early days after gold was discovered here in 1851, there were no sewerage pipes… You couldn’t flush away “your business”; you just tipped your chamber pot out wherever you could. By law you had to dig a hole to pour your poop down, but sometimes such muck just ended up on the street, along with the piles of horse and sheep manure. Talking of sheep, historians estimate that about 1000 sheep per day were walked into Ballarat to be butchered and eaten during the busiest part of the gold rush. This led to rotting scraps lying in huge piles next to the butchers’ shambles (shop), and this meant flies! I hope you agree that we have made the right decision in cleaning history up a little.

The most important thing we want you to do during a visit to Sovereign Hill is empathise with the people who were here 160 years ago. When you empathise with someone you try to put yourself in their shoes, and see the world through their eyes. When you walk around our Chinese Camp, try to imagine you were a Chinese gold miner living here in 1855.  What was life like for you? As you walk around the tents, imagine you were a woman with 4 children living on the diggings while your miner husband hasn’t found any gold. How would your family survive?

trooper

“No Gold License eh?!”

One of our favourite education sessions that school students enjoy is called “Gold Fever”. Maybe your class has visited us to play it, and you remember what it felt like to be a miner getting picked on by the nasty troopers. By competing to be the richest, and therefore, most successful miners, teams have to work together, be a little sneaky about Gold Licenses, and keep their eyes on the dodgy bankers. These are all problems Ballarat’s miners had to deal with on a daily basis. This game is all about teaching students to empathise with others and to understand how different life was in the past.

So, museums exist to teach people about history, while also teaching skills like empathy, critical thinking and chronology (putting historical events in order and understanding how one event often causes the next). Do you think Sovereign Hill does a good job at teaching visitors about history?

Links and References:

What is a museum? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum

Why go to a museum? – http://colleendilen.com/2009/07/31/10-reasons-to-visit-a-museum/

Why study history? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLE-5ElGlPM 

Studying History is important – http://www.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/resources/articles/why_history_matters.html

A great YouTube Chanel dedicated to teaching History – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX6b17PVsYBQ0ip5gyeme-Q

Sesame Street explain empathy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_1Rt1R4xbM

For teachers; empathy theory – https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization

Should museums teach facts or skills?: http://museumquestions.com/2015/01/26/schools-and-museums-can-museums-teach-content-to-school-groups/

The National Centre for History Education (Australian Government) on empathy –  http://www.hyperhistory.org/index.php?option=displaypage&Itemid=794&op=page

A Deaf Digger

Having recently learnt about a very interesting Deaf man who spent some time on the Victorian goldfields during the 1850s, we thought we would share his story with you.

Frederick John Rose.

Frederick John Rose.

Frederick John Rose was a Deaf man from England. He was born in 1831 and became profoundly deaf due to Scarlet Fever. He was educated at a Deaf School in Old Kent Road, London.

Rose came to Australia with his younger brother in 1852 when he was 21 years old. He began work as a cabinet maker in South Melbourne but was soon keen to try his luck prospecting for gold. He walked to the goldfields near Bendigo in 1853. Unfortunately he had no luck finding gold so he worked as a carpenter/builder.

While working in Bendigo, Rose saw a series of letters in the newspaper The Argus. One letter was from an unknown author who claimed there were as many as 50 Deaf children living in Victoria who were without any form of schooling. Another letter was from a widow, Mrs Lewis, with a Deaf daughter. Mrs Lewis wrote appealing for anyone who could educate her daughter Lucy. Rose had not realised there were so many Deaf children in Victoria and so he decided to establish a school for the Deaf in Melbourne. He wrote about this intention as a letter to The Argus and received answers from parents with Deaf children who were interested in supporting the development of a school.

In 1860 the school, which has now become The Victorian College for the Deaf, was established and Lucy Lewis was the first pupil. By 1861 the school had eight students. Rose was now married and he and his wife had to keep renting new, bigger premises due to the increase in student numbers. Further enrolments led to Rose and his associates lobbying with the local church for a purpose-built school and in 1866 they moved into the new building and became a school and support service for Deaf children. The school and support service continued and still operate today as Deaf Children Australia, a not-for-profit agency supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing children and their families, and The Victorian College for the Deaf.  The school itself is no longer solely located in the original building (although some classes still occur within its facilities) however the original building still stands and is now listed with Heritage Victoria.

Frederick J. Rose continued as Superintendent and Headmaster of the school until 1891 when he was forced to leave when the school’s board of management decided to focus more on education taught through speaking and listening rather than signing. This was a result of the resolutions passed at the 2nd International Congress on Education of the Deaf. [See Milan Congress 1880 here and the rejections of the 1880 resolutions in 2010 here.]

Throughout his life, Rose raised lots of money for various organisations supporting Deaf people and was a highly respected member of the community. He died in 1920 at the age of 89 and is buried in the St Kilda Cemetery in Melbourne. See a signed version of his story by Stan Batson, a highly respected Deaf man, here.

Learning about the story of Frederick J. Rose has highlighted some of the historical discrimination Deaf people have faced, and in some cases still face in Australia, in terms of access, education and also immigration. Jan Branson and Don Miller have written extensively on this topic. In 1998 they wrote about ship captains getting fined for bringing “infirm” people to Australia or New Zealand. Fortunately for F. J. Rose, and for all of Victoria’s Deaf people past and present, he arrived in Australia before these immigration laws were created!

The sign language used by Deaf people in Victorian times evolved as all languages do over time, and has today become what is called Australian Sign Language, or Auslan. This language is specific to Australian Deaf people and is not ‘universal’; something many people mistakenly believe. Each country has its own sign language and culture that is particular to the Deaf people living in those countries. This means that people in England use British Sign Language (BSL), people in America use American Sign Language (ASL) and people in France use French Sign Language (LSF). Auslan has links to both British and Irish sign languages because when Deaf people migrated here or were transported here as convicts they brought their languages with them.

Auslan was recognised by the Australian government as a “community language other than English” and the preferred language of the Deaf community in policy statements in 1987 and 1991. However, this recognition is yet to filter through to many institutions, government departments and professionals who work with Deaf people. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auslan)

Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind people may have differing needs or individual preferences to ensure access to clear communication. This may involve working with Auslan/English interpreters, Tactile Signing interpreters, seating arrangements, lighting, written information or gaining information through non-verbal signals such as facial expressions, lip patterns and body language.

In the days before technological advances such as mobile phones, the internet, television or even electric lighting, many Deaf people met by gas light in the streets of Melbourne. These lights allowed Deaf people to chat long after the sun had gone down.

This sign indicates that an event or video etc. has an Auslan interpreter.

This sign indicates that an event or video etc. has an Auslan interpreter.

Australian Deaf Culture is specific to the Deaf Community here in Australia. It contains a wealth of history, humour, customs, etiquette, and of course the language of Auslan is integral to all people who are members of the Deaf Community. Read more about Deaf culture here.

In many ways it can be useful to consider Auslan and the Deaf Community as a minority language community rather than a disability group. The Deaf Community in Australia have a different language, culture, history and customs to the mainstream community in Australia. In this way they are similar to people who have migrated to Australia from other countries, except that Deaf people have not migrated. For this reason, many people feel there are strong similarities between Deaf communities and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities who also have different languages and cultural practices compared with broader society. If we think about the Deaf Community like that it becomes easier to understand the challenges they face as a minority language seeking recognition, access and fair treatment in our society.

Did you know that there are also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who use a sign language for cultural reasons and at certain times? Some of these communities have Deaf people as well and use different signs to Auslan to communicate. Read more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and signing here.

Links and References:

Timeline of F. J. Rose’s life: http://www.deafchildrenaustralia.org.au/FJ_Rose_Chronology

Short biography of F. J. Rose: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_J_Rose

Interesting article on the history of Australian government discrimination against deaf immigrants: http://deafhistoryaustralia.com/tag/frederick-j-rose/

The Victorian College for the Deaf: http://www.vcd.vic.edu.au/6354650/victorian-college-history.htm  

The history of Auslan: http://www.auslan.org.au/about/history/

An explanation of deaf culture, do’s and don’t’s for interacting with deaf people, and a history of Auslan: http://www.aussiedeafkids.org.au/deaf-culture.html

On Deaf culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaf_culture

Utmost for the Highest: The History of the Victorian School for Deaf Children, by J. H. Burchett, Melbourne, 1964.

No Longer By Gaslight, by John W Flynn. Adult Deaf Society, East Melbourne. 1984.

How not to say “I beg your pardon?”: http://bit.ly/17g0PfE 

Deaf History – Milan 1880: http://deafness.about.com/cs/featurearticles/a/milan1880.htm

A New Era: Deaf Participation and Collaboration, Vancover 2010: http://nad.org/sites/default/files/2010/July/ICEDNewEraVancouver2010.pdf

Frederic John Rose. Founder of the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institutionhttp://bit.ly/1CGKgST 

Deaf History: Frederick John Rose: http://www.auslanstorybooks.com/fj-rose.html