This post was inspired by an inquiry from a Year 9 student. Thank you Arron.
The origins of public policing
Propelled by the discovery of gold, the nature of policing in Victoria changed dramatically during the 1850s. These changes aimed to develop a united professional police force, based on a model of civil policing introduced in London by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.
The introduction of Peel’s model of civil policing is now seen as a great leap forward in law and order. At the time, Peel’s model was controversial because it took the responsibility of policing away from local control and placed it in the hands of the government. The British public feared a police force used by the government to keep itself in power.
London Police Uniform 1829
To help people accept this new form of policing, Peel’s model had several developments. These included police having no weapons except a concealed club and a rattle to attract attention; trying not to accept men of military rank or influence within the Government; and applying methods of crime prevention, rather than punishment. Police were assigned to a particular district, which was then divided into beats. A policeman would get to know his beat, and this would help him detect crime. Regulations and manuals regarding civil policing duties were also published. The distinctive police uniform functioned to make people aware of the police presence and minimise accusations of police acting as spies. Police were also ordered to be civil towards all members of the public. This civility extended to the point of accepting ridicule without any argument. You can read more about the development of Peel’s police here.
Where and what did diggers drink?
This blog was inspired by a speech given by our CEO, Dr Jeremy Johnson in April 2010 at the University of Ballarat Beer Awards. The speech was based on research done by Sovereign Hill’s Senior Historian, Dr Jan Croggon. The speech was recorded and an audio file is available at the end of this blog.
The problem of alcohol and young men
“Diggers of low degree”, S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection
The colonial government of Victoria was incredibly worried about alcohol on the goldfields. The population of Victoria before 1860 was mainly young men, and the authorities were concerned that over indulgence in alcohol could lead to a breakdown in law and order in the colony. For that reason an act was passed to prohibit alcohol from being sold on the goldfields. This act allowed for harsh penalties if you were caught manufacturing or selling liquor. A first offence carried a £50 fine, whereas threatening with a pistol might only incur a fine of £5. The Act was policed by plain clothes men, who were given half of the £50 fine for a first offence, and then, because a second offence brought months of hard labour, and no profit for the police, they resorted to blackmail, taking £5 whenever they felt like it.
Days of my Youth
By Charles Napier Hemy Ra, ARA, RWS, 1841 – 1917
Edited by Peter McGann
Published by Viglione Press, Black Rock, Victoria 2009
This fantastic little book is a great way to personalise students experiences of our History, and provides an opportunity to debate the classification of a source as primary or secondary. Charles Napier Hemy was a renowned maritime artist of the late 19th century. At the age of 10 he accompanied his father on a trip around the world, culminating in a visit to the Goldfields of Victoria in 1851-2. In 1904 Charles sat down on board his yacht Van Der Meer in Falmouth harbour and wrote a journal of his recollections of his travels under sail, and adventures on the Goldfields. Continue reading
Was the Government too slow to react? Did they have the time?
Gill, S.T. – High Degree- Ballarat Gold Museum Collection
Many People believe that the problems with Government and licence fees began after all the easy gold was taken, and diggers were forced to take longer to find gold. This makes sense, why would anyone be upset with paying a licence fee if they are pretty sure of getting rich quick? The National Library of Australia has set up TROVE, a free digitised search service, so you can research their extensive archive of old newspapers and magazines. A quick read through some of the newspapers around in the first year of the Victorian Gold rushes, shows that many people were already angry about paying a fee, why?
Header from the Melbourne Argus-August 14th 1851
TROVE can be a lot of fun too. I already mentioned the Newspapers, but there are also digital copies of old magazines, maps, photos and much more. You can even edit articles that the computer didn’t read properly.
Early Problems with the licence system
Do you like paying out good money and receiving nothing in return? Well neither did the people of Victoria in the 1850s, and they made their feelings known through the newspapers. Continue reading
With the new popular TV program ‘Wild Boys’ gracing our screens it seems timely to discuss the presence of Bushrangers during the gold rushes. While the TV show glosses over a few historical details, drawing on popular culture such as this can be used as a powerful hook to engage students in history. They can even become historians who investigate the historical accuracy of such programs, from people and attitudes to building construction and details of daily life – an interesting and empowering activity no doubt.
Bushrangers certainly existed in colonial Australia and some thrived during the gold rush. Unidentifiable gold was an alluring target, as were the many naive new chums arriving in the colony. A large part of the British Redcoats‘ role in the colonies was to act as a gold escort between the diggings and Melbourne. The situation was further affected by the presence of numerous ex-convicts harbouring resentment towards authority figures and the limited number of police; including some untrained and allegedly corrupt officers. It was a potent mix and a complex social scenario.