Tag Archives: gold rush

Why is the Museum called Sovereign Hill?

Sovereign Hill Museum’s Association’s outdoor museum is located on Sovereign Hill, where quartz mining began in 1860 by what became known as the Sovereign Quartz Mining Company. The ‘sovereign’ name was associated both with the British Crown and with gold.

A sovereign is a one-pound (value, not weight) gold coin. Much of the gold from the goldfields was sent to the mint to be made into these gold coins, initially in London and then to the mints of Sydney and Melbourne.

The museum cares for many collections including the Paul and Jessica Simon coin collection. This important collection includes a variety of sovereigns like these two examples.

Gold sovereign coin (Edge Knock) featuring the bust of Queen Victoria on the obverse and the British coat of arms on the reverse. [GM 76.0107] 1851

Gold Sovereign Type 1 with bust of Queen Victoria on obverse and crown and wreath on the reverse. Made at Sydney Mint, one of the first Sovereign coins made in Australia. It was legal currency only in the colonies, you could not use an Australian Sovereign in Great Britain.  [GM 76.0031] 1853

What is a pound?

As an immersive museum one of the things, you may notice as you explore Sovereign Hill are the changes in currency and units of measurement. Currency is the system of money, like paper bills and coins, used in a particular country. What we call our money and the look of our money have changed over time. Our miners were not using the same system of measuring or currency as we do today; there was no national standard of measurement as there is today. States within Australia determined their measurement systems independently, based on the imperial systems of weights and measures used in England. The need for a nationally standardised system of weights and measures was recognised as part of the Commonwealth Constitution in 1901. With Federation Australia became responsible for its currency – until 1901 Australian colonies used the British Pound but minted in Australia. The Australian pound was introduced in 1910 and in 1966 the Australian dollar.

Around Sovereign Hill, you may hear the term “pound” used both as a unit of weight and as a unit of currency. One pound weight (lb) is the equivalent of 450g (0.45 kg) in the metric units we use in Australia today. One pound currency (£) in today’s Australian dollars ($) is a little more difficult to compare. The relative value of one pound today can vary from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars depending on what we are comparing. To understand the value of £1 today, we need to think about it relative to the cost of goods (what can you buy with £1 in 1852 and how much money would you need to buy the same things today) and relative to the average wage (how much would a person be paid in their job).

We currently use the approximate figure that £1 would have the buying and social power of $1000. But, where did we get this figure? Below are two examples of calculating the value of a pound that give us very different figures.

Compared to the Value of Gold

In the nineteenth century, the British Government adopted the Gold Standard. An economic system that matched the amount of money circulating (being used) in Britain to the amount of gold stored in the country. Gold has been highly valued for millennia so was considered a safe, stable resource on which to base the value of a country’s money. The value of 1 ounce of gold was set at £4.25 throughout the nineteenth century. As a British colony using British money at the time, we will use this value as our starting point.

1 oz gold = £4.25 in 1850

Currently (2022), gold is selling for approximately $2500 Australian per ounce.

                2022 1 oz gold = $2500 AUD

We need to convert dollars to pounds to compare these values. Currently, 1 British Pound is worth $1.76 AUD.

                ($2500 / oz) / ($1.76/£) = £1420 / oz in 2022

This gives us a value of 1 oz, but we want the value of £1, so we are going to bring back our 1850 value.

                (£1420/oz) / (£4.25/oz) = 334

Therefore, £1 in 1850 would be £334 in 2022. To understand this in Australian dollars:

                £334 x ($1.76 / £) = $588

Using the changing value of gold £1 in 1850 is worth $588 in 2022. The price of gold changes daily, so this figure will not stay the same.

Compared to the Average Wages of the Miners

We have to consider that the average person in the 1850s had far less buying power than the average person today, even after having accounted for inflation (the changing cost of goods and services, CPI). The gold value above does not account for the changing cost of living (for example paying for food, rent, and clothing) or changing wages (how much you are paid for work). In 1851, at the start of the gold rush period, a married couple with a family likely has an annual income of between £29-35.

So, what does it mean to make a one-pound purchase if this is your household income – for example, a £1 / month Gold Licence? When you consider that, apart from Carpenters and Blacksmiths, most other jobs earned between £25-35 pounds a year, then one pound a month could be as much as a third if not almost half of a yearly wage (£12 / year).

You  can see more specific examples of wages from 1851 in an excerpt from The Argus, 23 June 1851 (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4778688/505668?zoomLevel=3) and at the State Library of Victoria (https://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/whatitcost/earnings)

In 2021 the average Australian weekly earning was $1328.90 or an annual salary of about $69 000 (https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/earnings-and-work-hours/average-weekly-earnings-australia/latest-release). As a very loose approximation, we can draw a comparison that if a third of $69 000 is $23 000 (this is our £12 / year figure), and one-twelfth of $23 000 is $1 919, then a £1 / month fee in 1850 in Ballarat would cost the wage-equivalent of $1919 Australian Dollars today.

Creating Connections:

Was a Gold Licence really expensive?

On the 1 September 1851 a fee of 30 shillings/month was introduced for a miner’s licence (there were 20 shillings in a pound) – all adult males on the goldfields were required to have one, whether searching for gold, finding gold, or not. By 1853 all persons (women, if they were prospecting, included) on the goldfields were required to have a licence and the fee had dropped to £ 1 / month or £8 / year. Reflecting on the relative value of a pound above ($588 or $1 919 current AUD) this was a significant expense. Following the events of the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, in mid-1855 the Miner’s Right replaced the Gold Licence and was purchased annually rather than monthly or quarterly.

A miner’s right is still required for fossicking or prospecting today, and it must be on you at all times when prospecting (even in your own backyard!). It currently costs about $25 and is valid for 10 years.

Links and References:

A great resource to explore changing values of money over time is Measuring Worth, https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/australiacompare/index.php

Learn more about Sovereign Hill and the story it tells here: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/03/24/oh-sovereign-hill-is-a-museum/

For more information on current prospecting visit Victoria State Government Earth Resources site https://earthresources.vic.gov.au/licensing-approvals/fossicking

ABC Education “digibook” called The Colonisation of the Central Victorian Goldfields: https://education.abc.net.au/home#!/digibook/2873696/colonisation-of-the-central-victorian-goldfields A “digitour” of the Aboriginal side of the goldrush story: https://sovereignhillhiddenhistories.com.au/

Study History with help from the Sovereign Hill Museums Association

There are many great reasons to learn about the past, and that is why The Sovereign Hill Museums Association (SHMA) exists! We aim to “Connect people through our history to adapt for a better future” and “Provide meaningful, immersive experiences that tell stories of our humanity”. To support this purpose and mission, the Victorian Curriculum-aligned education programs presented by our Education Officers focus on learning through inquiry. Some of the key questions that guide our inquiries include:

  • Does the past make us who we are today?
  • Whose history is it?
  • What should stay in the past?
  • How has our culture changed over time?
  • Were we more sustainable in the past?

Being curious about where we come from helps us understand who we are today, and what our future might hold. Traditionally written History tells stories of individual people and societies from a specific point in time. However, interest in “Big History” (which places humans in a much longer story about the universe and the rise of life on Earth) is growing, as is the valuing of oral history traditions like those treasured by the Wadawurrung people – the Traditional Owners of the region on which this blogpost was written.

While History as an academic discipline has only existed for a couple of centuries, humans have explored themselves and their ancestors through historical stories for hundreds of thousands of years. A Greek writer by the name of Herodotus – who lived during the 5th century BCE – is thought to be the “father of HHistory” in the Western intellectual tradition, but the way we study History has changed much since then and will continue to change long into the future. When a capital “H” is used, the writer is referring to the academic discipline, while using a lower-case “h” indicates something that has merely happened in the past, e.g. “At university I majored in History” and “I like researching my family history”.  

Below you will find descriptions of the onsite and online learning opportunities the SHMA makes available to students of all ages. We are particularly excited to share our new – and FREE! – digital learning packages with you, which we launched in 2020. These carefully curated learning packages are designed around the following themes: Colonial Life, 19th Century Migration, Aboriginal People and the Goldfields, Environmental Impacts of the Goldfields, Goldfields Technology, Industrial Revolution, and Early Years Object Based Learning. Each of these packages has an “inquiry” learning approach and can be utilised by teachers and students prior to attending Sovereign Hill, when you return to school after SHMA camp/excursion, or can complement studies of Victoria’s famous gold rushes even if you are unable to visit. You can register for the learning packages here.

Students can learn about 19th century transport technologies through a ride on Sovereign Hill’s famous horse-drawn coach; we think experiential learning is the most powerful type of learning!

While SHMA’s Education Team enjoys reading and writing about history, we think one of the best ways to learn about the past is by immersing our visitors in it. This can involve getting dirty hands on the goldfields like a 19th century miner, exploring artefacts and past technologies with the help of museum experts, eating historical food, or interacting with interpreters in period clothing. The SHMA manages three sites to explore the history of both the Ballarat region and the State of Victoria:

  • The Sovereign Hill Living Museum (a historically-immersive timeline experience which tells the story of Ballarat’s famous 19th century gold rush through activated streetscapes),
  • Collections (the SHMA cares for more than 150,000 fascinating items which are used to tell the stories of Ballarat, the Victorian goldfields, and the extraordinary impact of the 19th century gold rushes had on Australia),
  • Narmbool (a 2,000-hectare sheep farm and school camp facility where visiting schools learn about sustainability, biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage).

When teachers book class excursions/camps with us, our Bookings Officers help you personalise an itinerary that complements what your Foundation to Tertiary students are learning at school. Our Education Team can build rich learning experiences for students studying many topics and academic disciplines – from History to Science, English to Food Studies! We also offer special 1.5hr VCE masterclasses for Australian History, Geography, Business Management, and Health and Human Development students, which are becoming very popular. Most teachers choose one of these education programs for their class, and then add tours, demonstrations and self-exploration time into their itinerary. Discover the full list of exciting learning opportunities the Sovereign Hill Museums Association makes available to student visitors here. Teachers are also welcome to contact our team to discuss the development of a unique education session tailored to the needs of a specific class.

Our Education Officers also make learning resources for students aimed at deepening History knowledge and skills as described in the Victorian Curriculum. Some are specifically designed to help students develop the Capabilities, known in the Victorian Curriculum as Critical and Creative Thinking, Ethical, Intercultural and Personal and Social. We think these skills are crucial for 21st century people to master, and are best developed through studying the Humanities.

Many students go underground while visiting Sovereign Hill to learn about Ballarat’s “Deep Lead” and “Quartz” mining eras.

In the days before an excursion or camp, students can read blogposts and explore this “Student Resources” webpage. In particular, primary-aged students should watch this video to understand what to expect from a visit to the Sovereign Hill Living Museum. We partnered with ABC Education a few years ago to produce a “digibook” called The Colonisation of the Central Victorian Goldfields, which can also help students contextualise their visit and the stories the SHMA tells.

While onsite at the Living Museum, teachers can make use of the various resources listed on our “Teacher Resources” webpage.

After visiting, students can explore specific resources that relate to the contents of their education session, which are emailed to the teacher that makes the school booking.  

Two excellent (and free!) SHMA resources that all schools should use to support learning about colonial Australia are:

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association works hard to bring History to life through both onsite and online experiences, and we hope teachers make the most of our organisation as an educational resource.

Handling artefacts = immersive and powerful learning. We think getting “hands-on” with history is the best way to explore the past.

When we consider the challenges that lie ahead for humans and our planet, it has probably never been more important to learn about how people in the past have tackled challenges, managed change, and made good decisions. We like this quote from the Australian History Councils’ “The Value of History” publication:

The study of the past and telling its stories are critical to our sense of belonging, to our communities and to our shared future. History shapes our identities, engages us as citizens, creates inclusive communities, is part of our economic well-being, teaches us to think critically and creatively, inspires leaders and is the foundation of our future generations.

Why do you think studying History is important? Please share your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom of this blogpost to get involved in the conversation.

Links and References:

A great article from ABC Education on how History is written and who writes it: https://education.abc.net.au/newsandarticles/blog/-/b/3943916/how-is-history-written-and-who-writes-it-?sf244858353=1

Learn more about Sovereign Hill and the story it tells here: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/03/24/oh-sovereign-hill-is-a-museum/

Understand why learning about Victoria’s gold rushes is valuable: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/10/22/why-do-i-have-to-learn-about-the-goldrush/

Explore the stories artefacts can reveal with the help of this blogpost: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/06/08/the-hidden-stories-in-artefacts/

ABC Education “digibook” called The Colonisation of the Central Victorian Goldfields: https://education.abc.net.au/home#!/digibook/2873696/colonisation-of-the-central-victorian-goldfields A “digitour” of the Aboriginal side of the goldrush story: https://sovereignhillhiddenhistories.com.au/

The Gold Rushes of Victoria and California Compared

In 1848, three years before Victoria’s gold rushes began, the shiny yellow metal was found in California which made the seaside city of San Francisco in the United States of America (USA) grow rapidly, much like Melbourne did after 1851. These two mining booms were similar in some ways but different in others. By comparing these two rushes we can explore what Victoria learned from California’s experience of rapid population growth and an ‘explosion’ in wealth.

Cradles were used in both gold rushes to separate rocks from gold. Left image: H. Sandham, The Cradle/California, 1883. Reproduced with permission from Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/90713945/. Right image: S.T. Gill, Victorian Goldfields 1852-3, Cradling, 1869. Reproduced with permission from State Library of Victoria.


Both of these gold rushes attracted miners from all around the world and in particular from Europe and China. The populations of these gold rush regions grew very quickly; 300,000 people arrived in California between 1848 and 1855, while Victoria’s population grew from about 80,000 in 1851 to 550,000 by 1861. Immigrants arrived by ship and then walked inland to the goldfields. These gold rushes also attracted ex-convicts from the British Empire’s penal settlements in Sydney and Hobart who had a reputation for causing trouble (but also became scapegoats when others caused trouble).

Sometimes goldrush immigrants worked closely with the local First Nations peoples to locate gold, food and water, while others were cruel and even violent towards the Aboriginal and Native American peoples of these two regions.

This wooden structure built over Sovereign Hill’s gold panning creek is called a flume. It diverts river water to where it is needed for mining work.

The same technologies were often used in both locations, including gold pans, cradles and flumes. The clothing the miners wore was also very similar from one place to another, as was the kind of imported food and medicine they typically used. The money that could be made from the trade of such goods often made business owners and merchants richer than the gold miners themselves in both ‘rushes’.

To protect the gold that was found on these goldfields, miners often carried guns and/or kept large dogs to protect their tents and huts (where they might store gold under their pillows or bury it under their beds). The site of a gold rush could be a dangerous place, and the police of the time faced a big challenge in maintaining law and order. This is why many miners took security into their own hands in California and Victoria.

Both of the governments responsible for overseeing these mining booms spent some of the wealth gold generated on building hospitals, schools and later train tracks and stations. However, most of the investment in services that cared for the sick and orphaned actually came from donations from wealthy individuals.

When the gold started to run out, new industries that were first promoted by mining helped to keep people from leaving both of these regions. Money made from gold was used to begin the industrialisation of both Victoria and California, supplying many jobs to those who had once been gold miners.  

Left image: William A. Jackson, Map of the mining district of California, 1850. Reproduced with permission from Public Library of America. Right image: J.B. Philp, Map of the Roads to all gold Mines in Victoria, 1853. Reproduced with permission from State Library of Victoria.

Possible Similarities

It is argued by some historians that both gold rushes were encouraged by the respective authorities for political and economic reasons.

The state now called California was part of Mexico until the start of 1848, at which time the USA took possession of it following the Mexican-American War. The USA immediately encouraged people to start mining there because the fast-growing goldrush population would help the USA keep a claim on this region long-term; Mexico was not able to reclaim it with so many new Californians ready to fight to keep their gold (and the land it was found in). This delivered the USA both political and economic advantages in the short and long-term.

During this time, the British Empire was similarly eager to make what is now called Victoria a more permanent settlement, and did not want or need to make another penal colony (as they had in Sydney, Hobart and Perth). To grow the population and to secure their control of South Eastern Australia (mainly to stop it being colonised by the French who were also keen on empire-building in the Southern Hemisphere), the British Empire would need to attract free-settlers (much like the USA aimed to in California).

Just prior to 1851, Victoria was called the Port Phillip District of New South Wales (NSW); it was part of the Colony of NSW and consisted mostly of large sheep farms owned by Europeans. When the Colony of Victoria was declared in 1851 (which meant it would have its own government and be separate from the Colony of NSW), Governor Charles La Trobe set up a Gold Discovery Committee offering a £200 reward for anyone finding gold as a way to stop the flow of people to the new NSW goldfields. When it was announced that gold could be found in Clunes (33kms north of Ballarat) and Buninyong (12kms south of Ballarat), miners were encouraged to join the ‘rush’ in Victoria. Gold had already been found by Europeans in many parts of South Eastern Australia by this time (and Aboriginal people had known about it for thousands of years), but it was only after 1851 that colonial governments allowed the news to spread and goldrush immigrants were welcomed in Australia.

Other political and economic reasons some historians believe Australia’s gold rushes (in Victoria and NSW) were promoted from 1851 onwards include:

  • wanted to grow Australia’s European population to make it a more permanent military outpost and ensure the whole continent of Australia stayed in British hands (having learnt a painful economic and political lesson when they lost control of their American colonies in the American Revolutionary War, 1775–1783).
  • The industrial cities of England (such as London, Manchester and Liverpool) had filled to the brim with people, which made living conditions dirty and dangerous. Therefore, Britain needed somewhere appealing to send British subjects to live to ‘ease the squeeze’ at home.
  • It was hoped that Australia’s gold rushes would help the British Empire pay back its significant international debts, which it easily did (with a fortune left over which helped to fund the industrialisation of Australia). This enabled the British Empire to remain the world superpower until the mid-20th century when the USA took its place (mainly due to the economic stress caused by the two World Wars).
  • The British Empire thought they should reverse the Australian population drain that occurred when the Californian gold rush began – many European Australians (and some Aboriginal Australians) left after 1848 which impacted businesses like farms and merchant ships. The gold rushes in Australia encouraged many of these people to return to help make money for the British Empire through goldmining and trade.


Community leaders in Australia during the 19th century mining boom tried to copy the best aspects of the Californian experience, and avoid its worst.

Victoria’s gold licences allowed miners to ‘stake a claim’ (secure a patch of ground) which was not a feature of California’s early gold rush; this stopped many fights from breaking out on the diggings. One of the reasons (pre-Eureka Rebellion) gold licences were so expensive was because Victoria’s government needed money to support the fast-growing population with publicly-funded police forces, hospitals, roads etc. The high cost of Victoria’s gold licences was also designed to keep Europeans already working in Australia in their jobs, but regardless, many workers on Australia’s farms, ports and in hotels and shops dropped their tools and uniforms and headed straight to the diggings when news of the ‘rush’ began. In some ways, the gold licences probably made Victoria’s goldfields a bit more organised than the early years of California’s, however, their price was one of the main reasons the Eureka Rebellion happened, during which more than 30 people died. It could be said that while the Victorian government avoided some of the goldrush issues experienced by California, they created others through the way they chose to manage the goldfields.   

The government wanted Australia’s gold rush communities to be much more polite and orderly than California’s, so along with supporting the population with roads, police etc. they also wanted to encourage women to come to the goldfields. Many Europeans at this time (such as social reformer Caroline Chisholm) believed women were a ‘civilising influence’  and could make goldfields safer and calmer. Victoria arguably did better at managing its new population in comparison to California in this respect. Interestingly, women on both goldfields had a level of social and economic freedom including being able to own businesses, which was not very common back in Europe at this time.

John Leech, Alarming Prospect: The Single Ladies off to the Diggings, Punch Pocket Book, 1853. Reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum, The Sovereign Hill Museums Association.

By exploring the way Victoria’s gold wealth was spent on new technologies and institutions the differences between the two gold rushes can be understood. While it took California nearly a decade to start spending its gold wealth strategically, Victoria got started straight away. By the mid-1850s, Melbourne had become one of the richest cities in the world thanks to gold. To prepare for the day the gold ran out, community leaders invested in what they thought would make Melbourne (and Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Ararat etc.) as beautiful and ‘cultured’ as the great cities of Europe (London, Paris, Rome etc.). This is why many communities in Victoria that were built during the gold rushes feature large, beautiful, neoclassical stone buildings.

As a result of this, the State Library of Victoria (started in 1854) was built featuring huge Greek columns around its front entrance. In the 1850s it was one of the first free libraries in the world, encouraging the people of Victoria to educate themselves, and in turn, the generations to come. The University of Melbourne (founded in 1853) was the second university to open in Australia (the first in Victoria) and is today ranked among the best higher learning institutions in the world. The Melbourne Observatory (started in 1861) was developed to promote scientific research, and by 1869 it was home to the largest fully steerable telescope in the world. All of these investments – along with the State Parliament, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne Museum (now the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere since it moved to its current location), General Post Office (in the Burke Street Mall – now home to a clothing store), and the Treasury Building – were created during this era to promote ‘high culture’ and keep new Australians in this country once with gold ran out.

Architect Joseph Reed, The Public Library, Melbourne, 1854. Reproduced with permission from Libraries Australia.

We can even thank the gold rushes and the wise investments the government made at this time for our sewerage pipes! California did not spend its gold wealth like this in the beginning, which caused many social and health problems for its residents.

While Victoria and California both had gold rushes, they were similar in some ways and different in others. Please add any other similarities and differences you learn about relating to these two ‘rushes’ in the comments below.

Links and References:

Australian historian Dr. Benjamin Mountford explores the similarities and difference between these two gold rushes: https://www.latrobe.edu.au/news/articles/2018/release/how-gold-rushes-helped-the-modernworld  and https://www.impact.acu.edu.au/community/turning-points-in-history—the-gold-rush

David Goodman’s “Gold Seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s” also explores both rushes https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Gold_Seeking.html?id=GIgjlWwOPHgC&redir_esc=y

Two brief histories of California’s gold rush: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/goldrush-california/ and  https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/gold-rush-of-1849

The National Museum of Australia’s take on the gold rushes: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/gold-rushes

The history of Melbourne from the Melbourne Museum: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/longform/marvellous-melbourne/

Other Sovereign Hill Education blogposts related to this topic: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/10/22/why-do-i-have-to-learn-about-the-goldrush/ and https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2017/05/18/the-history-of-victoria/ and https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/07/28/goldrush-immigration-push-and-pull-factors/ and https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2018/09/14/how-when-why-the-industrial-revolution-in-australia/ and https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2019/03/25/environmental-changes-to-victorias-landscapes/

Animals on the Goldfields

During Ballarat’s gold rushes, there were many animals – both native and introduced – living on the diggings. Some were of great use to the miners and their families as a source of transport or food, while others were security guards, working animals and even served as hot water bottles. Many native animals were just living their lives but when gold mining changed their habitat, they had to relocate to different parts of Victoria as the risk of becoming extinct was high. Let’s explore the roles they played and the lives they would have led back then.



Rugs made from possum-skins like this one would keep people very warm during a cold Ballarat winter. The Wadawurrung people made these to sell to the miners, who paid a lot of money for such soft and life-saving rugs.

The Wadawurrung people encouraged certain native animals across this region for thousands of years before the arrival of the European squatters and then gold miners in the 1800s. Animals such as brushtail possums, eels and grey kangaroos were plentiful around Ballarat because traditional Wadawurrung landscape management took care of them by making sure their sources of food were in rich supply. This meant that when people wanted to make use of these animals for food or clothing, they could easily be located and collected. However, enough of each species was always left alive at the end of a hunt to ensure people living in this area could keep eating and using products from these animals long into the future.

After 1835, European farmers (known as squatters) brought introduced animals such as sheep, cows, goats, and horses to what we now call the State of Victoria. The introduction of these animals (mainly sheep) and the use of European farming practices changed the landscape in terms of the kinds of plants and trees that covered it. As a result, the habitats for native animals were affected. While some native species survived, others became locally extinct (like quolls, bandicoots and bustards [also known as bush turkeys]) because Europeans ate them in unsustainable numbers, or the introduced animals seized their ecological niche. This means that today there is a mix of native and introduced species wherever you go in Australia, from kookaburras to sparrows in the sky, wombats to foxes on land, and blue-ringed octopuses to European green shore crabs in our oceans.

We had kangaroo-soup, roasted [wild] turkey well stuffed, a boiled leg of mutton, a parrot-pie, potatoes, and green peas; next, a plum pudding and strawberry-tart, with plenty of cream. Katherine Kirkland (who lived in Trawalla – 40kms west of Ballarat), Life in the Bush. By a Lady, 1845, p.23.


Here is one of our Education Officers taking visiting students to the Butcher’s Shamble, where miners could buy mutton (this mutton however, is made of plastic).

The gold rushes began in 1851 and brought hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world to the shores of Victoria. Many of these new migrants transported yet more animals with them. Dogs were particularly useful companion animals on the diggings because they could keep you warm at night and guard your tent/hut while you were goldmining. For this reason, there are many dogs featured in the sketches of ST Gill, one of the most famous goldrush artists. Some animals were even introduced from the late 1850s onward to help Europeans ease their homesickness! Songbirds like sparrows, starlings and blackbirds were thought to make the Australian bush sound more like England.


The most useful of horse breeds on the diggings were draft horses, also known as Clydesdales – these are the biggest and strongest type of horse.

Horses were also in high demand during the early years of the gold rushes (before the need for steam-powered machines increased), as all mining work relied on muscle power. As a horse can typically push/pull the same load as ten people, they were used to lift heavy metal buckets of dirt, rocks and gold from below ground in the first few years of the gold rushes. Likewise, horses could be attached to machines that were used to free gold from paydirt and quartz rock, for example, puddling machines and Chilean mills.  People and goods could also move around by horse (or sometimes bullock). They were attached to coaches or other vehicles to transport larger groups of people and/or numerous goods. Cobb & Co built a coach, which was a bit like a modern bus, called the ‘Leviathan’ (a word meaning big monster). This vehicle could carry up to 60 people from Ballarat to Geelong with the help of 16 horses, but it did not prove very successful.


Sheep fat was commonly used to make soap for washing clothes and bodies. Candles could also be made from animal fat.

Many animals were also brought by the new arrivals for food. Goats and cows were milked to produce dairy products to feed miners and their families, while chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were farmed for eggs and their meat. However, the meat that was most commonly eaten on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s was mutton (old sheep). You can see many animals around Sovereign Hill which represent the animals that were brought here by goldrush migrants. During a visit, you might even spy our museum cat ‘Fergus’ who helps to keep the mice and rats away from the outdoor museum.

Some animals also toured the Victorian goldfields as entertainment – read about the visits from a tiger, an elephant and two zebras that came to Ballarat in the 1850s here.


Even 19th century ladies’ underwear, like this corset, were often made using animal products – the tough ribbing was typically made of baleen whale teeth, while the smooth lining was made by silk worms (the caterpillar of the silk moth).

Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, perhaps you could take photos to write a story book about the many animals that miners would have encountered on the diggings – from native animals to domesticated pets and animals that produce food.

Links and References

An ABC Education ‘digibook’ featuring Bruce Pascoe talking about traditional Aboriginal land management: http://education.abc.net.au/home#!/digibook/3122184/bruce-pascoe-aboriginal-agriculture-technology-an

An ecological niche explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIVixvcR4Jc

A brief history of Victoria: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2017/05/18/the-history-of-victoria/

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans in Australia ate native foods to survive: https://cass.anu.edu.au/news/parrot-pie-and-possum-curry-how-colonial-australians-embraced-native-food

SBS Gold on Australia’s introduced species: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=130

A fact sheet on invasive species in Australia: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/2bf26cd3-1462-4b9a-a0cc-e72842815b99/files/invasive.pdf

The introduction of rabbits in Australia explained by the National Museum Australia: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/rabbits-introduced

A blogpost exploring what was commonly eaten by goldrush immigrants: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/11/30/how-to-cook-a-gold-rush-feast/

An online version of Katherine Kirkland’s book Life in the Bush. By a Lady, published in 1845: https://tinyurl.com/yxavj9fh

Information on animals introduced to Australia to make European settlers less homesick: http://myplace.edu.au/decades_timeline/1860/decade_landing_14.html?tabRank=4&subTabRank=3

A blogpost on mid-19th century transport: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/06/25/1850s-transport/

A great Gold Museum blogpost about dogs on the Victorian diggings: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/canine-companions/

More information about the Leviathan coach: https://blog.qm.qld.gov.au/2017/09/13/how-big-was-the-leviathan-monster-coach/


In the 1850s, animals were even used to create the red colour of raspberry drops. The cochineal beetle from Brazil was dried and ground-up to make red dye. But don’t worry, no living things are harmed in the making of Sovereign Hill’s lollies.


The Science of Gold

What is gold and why do we like it so much? In response to the many questions we receive like this from visiting students during our education sessions, let’s explore the origins of gold and our fascination with it.

Where does gold come from?

Humans can’t make gold, although many in the past have tried. And the Earth can’t make more of it even if we wait a couple of billion years. Only recently did scientists confirm the long-held theory that gold is created by the universe during supernovae (when neutron [dying] stars explode/collide). These violent astronomical events produce lots of the heavy metals we now use for things like ‘bling-y’ jewellery, as well as microcircuits for electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Gold can even be used in food like this burger, which costs $AU81! This great video explains the creation of gold really well.


People today use gold for all kinds of weird and wonderful things. We hope the 24 karat gold toilet paper isn’t a real thing. Pictured are gold pizza, gold sushi, a gold facial, gold toilet paper, a gold doughnut, a gold cappuccino, gold flies for fly-fishing, a gold turkey, and the $AU81 gold burger!

Neutron stars are the densest objects in the known universe, and when their super-hot collapsing cores explode or smash into one another, they create elements like gold and silver. It is believed that such an event or series of events in the distant past created meteors containing gold and silver which then fell to Earth, delivering the precious heavy metals that adventurous miners sought to dig out of the ground in places like Ballarat and Bendigo during the 19th century. According to some research published in 2011, a meteor shower about 4 billion years ago dumped 20 billion billion (Wow!! That’s a big number!) tons of gold and other precious metals on our planet!

The chemical symbol which you find on the periodic table for gold is Au (from the Latin word aurum meaning ‘shining dawn’). As gold is an element, it can’t be broken down into other substances, which is the reason humans can’t make gold themselves (although with the development of nuclear chemistry, one day we might figure it out).

Why do we like gold so much?

Many cultures around the world for at least the last 8,000 years have used gold for things like decoration/art, religious ceremonies, false teeth, currency, sporting medals, medicine, and more recently in human history, electronics and satellites. It is useful to us because it never goes rusty, it’s soft and easy to shape, it conducts heat really well, and it’s a beautiful colour. In scientific language, we describe gold as being dense (that’s why it’s heavy), malleable (soft and easy to bend) and lustrous (shiny).

While some cultures have used it for thousands of years, others have not. For example, the Aboriginal people of Ballarat – the Wadawurrung people – knew of the gold that could easily be picked up from the ground across Western Victoria, but instead they valued much more practical and sustainable natural resources like brushtail possums, and certain kinds of stones useful for tool making. You can learn about how gold has been used by many cultures here.

One of the main reasons we like gold today is because it’s rare. If all of the gold found on Earth were collected together, it would only fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools! If it were more common and easy to find, it wouldn’t be worth anywhere near as much money as it is today. The price of gold changes day to day, depending on how much is being dug out of the ground, and the number of people keen to buy the gold (the demand for it). The price of gold today (9/2/18) is $54.52 per gram, or to state the value in the unit of measurement more commonly used to weigh gold, it’s currently worth $1,695.97 per ounce (1 ounce = 31.1 grams). You can find the current price of gold here: https://goldprice.org/

Ballarat is an alluvial goldfield, basically meaning that our gold has been brought here and is moved around by water (including underground rivers) and is often on the surface or not far beneath it. For miners in Ballarat at the beginning of the gold rush (from 1851 until about 1853), this meant they didn’t have to dig very deep underground to find big gold nuggets. By the 1860s most of that easy-to-find gold near the surface was gone, meaning miners had to dig much deeper underground to continue finding payable (enough to make a profit) amounts of the precious yellow metal. This is when deep lead and quartz mining really took off in Ballarat.

The gold miners who came to Ballarat largely used gold to buy better lives (better clothes, housing, food, investments etc.) and the majority of the billions of dollars of gold found here was turned into gold sovereigns (English money made of gold, after which our museum – Sovereign Hill – got its name) or gold ingots (gold bars). Some however, was turned into spectacular, flashy pieces of jewellery, and even the beautiful mayoral chains owned by the City of Ballarat!

If you visit a jewellery store, you will notice items made of gold are usually described as ’18 karat gold’ or ’10 karat gold’. A karat is a unit of measurement which explains how much gold was mixed into the alloy (a mixture of metals) that have gone into the making of that piece of jewellery. A carat is used to value gemstones and pearls. 18 karat gold jewellery has a higher amount of gold in it than 10 karat gold jewellery, which is why it is always more expensive. If, say, a ring is made from 24 karat gold, it is pure gold – but of course this would make it an easily bent piece of jewellery!

The Castlemaine Goldfields is the only mining company in Ballarat still successfully finding payable gold underneath the city. There is still a lot of gold in the ground in this part of Victoria, but it’s very difficult and expensive to get out of the ground.

Links and References

TED Ed on the chemistry and origins of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf_4z4AKwJg

Sovereign Hill research notes for students about the different kinds of mining common in Ballarat in the 19th century: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/sovehill-pdf-file/SovHill-mining-notes-ss1.pdf

Some great facts about gold: https://www.livescience.com/39187-facts-about-gold.html

A report on the recent confirmation that gold is produced by supernovae: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/uoc–asc101517.php

A fantastic explainer video on the creation of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iaviqwMfJ0

How the gold karat system works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fineness

Gold in antiquity: https://www.ancient.eu/gold/

A video explaining why we use gold for currency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18yIHCSemhs

How NASA uses gold for space exploration: https://curiosity.com/topics/nasa-uses-gold-on-its-spacecraft-curiosity/

Should we eat gold?: http://www.foodandwine.com/news/is-gold-safe-to-eat

Gold according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold

What is more valuable than gold?: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-is-rarer-than-gold-45073180/


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


In praise of washing machines

full washing equip

An 1850s ‘washing machine’.

Many historians believe that the invention of electricity was the most important nineteenth century invention because it changed women’s lives dramatically. In the 1850s, there was no electricity and therefore no electric washing machine. What did this mean for those charged with washing the family’s clothes?

Nineteenth century gender roles, meaning the different kinds of jobs men and women were expected to do, were very strict – men worked outside the home in the ‘public’ world, while women worked inside the home in the ‘private’ world. Activities like working in mines or participating in politics were supposed to be performed by men, while taking care of the children and doing the family cooking and cleaning were activities performed by women. Nowadays, it is more common that all jobs, whether it’s mowing the lawn, making money from working in a factory or supermarket, or ironing clothes, are done by both men and women.

soap making

A tallow melting pan and a soap mold from the 1850s.

Washing clothes was a woman’s job in the 1850s. It required some very simple technologies: a large tub (bucket), a washboard, and some soap. Here, on the early diggings, most soap was homemade using tallow (which, in Ballarat, was sheep fat) mixed with some ash. Water had to be collected from creeks and lakes by bucket and was then heated over a fire. When Ballarat became a more established city, wealthier households built laundries in their gardens and installed ‘coppers’ (big copper buckets built over fireplaces) and garden water pumps (utilising underground ‘bore’ water) to make this work easier, but women still spent at least one entire day every week washing the family’s clothes.


A laundry copper.

Have you ever heard the expression ‘She mangled her finger’? This comes from a clothes washing technology called a mangle. At first, these rollers, through which clothes would be squeezed near-dry, were hand-cranked, but when electric mangles were introduced many people (including children!) got their hands and hair caught in these machines with disastrous results. Thankfully, some of the most dangerous designs were outlawed. However, this wasn’t the only hazard to washer women. Irons made of heavy cast-iron were heated on the fireplace and then used to smoothe fabric. Modern irons are very safe in comparison! Women could easily burn themselves with 1850s irons, and getting serious burns (before antibiotics were invented) sometimes resulted in gangrene, blood poisoning and even death!


A 19th century mangle, also known as a wringer.

Until the electric washing machine became a common household appliance in the 1950s, women dedicated large amounts of their lives to washing, rinsing, wringing-out, drying, and ironing clothes. Some academics, like Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, believe that the electric washing machine was ‘the greatest invention of the Industrial Revolution’ because it suddenly afforded women time for things like education, work outside the home, and politics, once the washing machine was introduced. Can you think of any other inventions which have had a similarly big impact on people’s lives?

Links and references

A brief history of the washing machine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_machine

A history of laundry: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-of-washing-clothes.aspx

A brief history of the mangle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangle_(machine)

A history of irons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothes_iron

A history of antibiotics and infection: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/treatments/Pages/The-History-of-Antibiotics.aspx

A teacher resource on ‘Laundry in the 19th Century’: http://www.ebparks.org/Assets/files/Laundry_19th_Century_06-01-09.pdf


The arrival of the train


Ballarat West Railway Station

Ballarat West Railway Station c.1889. Image courtesy of The Gold Museum, Ballarat

Trains changed the world; however, nowadays their impact can easily be overlooked. For thousands of years before the invention of the train, people only had the help of horses and simple cart technologies to move themselves and their possessions around on land. When the train first arrived in Ballarat in 1862, the city celebrated in magnificent fashion; local people knew this technology would change our city forever. It confirmed Ballarat’s place on the map and was important in securing the city’s long-term success. As writer John Béchervaise has said ‘they were anticipating a marvellous twentieth century’ (Béchervaise, J. & Hawley, G. Ballarat Sketchbook, Rigby Limited, Melbourne, 1977, p52).

STG Main Rd

S. T. Gill’s Arrival of the Geelong Mail, Main Road Ballarat, 1855. Image courtesy of The Gold Museum, Ballarat.

Many people don’t realise that Ballarat’s CBD (central business district) hasn’t always been centred around the train station. Until 1862, the most important part of the city was along Main Road, which is where you can now find Sovereign Hill. Before the train line was built, and trains started delivering passengers and cargo from first Geelong and later Melbourne to Lydiard Street, Main Road was true to its name; it was the centre of town!

There was another reason the Ballarat CBD moved from Main Road to Lydiard Street – fire. Most of the structures built along Main Road were either wooden or canvas, and after a series of fires and the introduction of the train line, Ballaratians started building in stone around the new train station. After all, community leaders wanted to make Ballarat a more permanent, established city, and these beautiful stone buildings from the 1800s are still enjoyed by millions of tourists each year.

The City of Ballarat website has this to say about the city’s historic train station: ‘Located in the heart of Ballarat, the Ballarat Station is a gateway to the city, a CBD landmark and one of the grandest Victorian-era station buildings in the state.’

The fact that one of the first grand train stations in Victoria was built in Ballarat demonstrates the importance of this goldrush city. Ballarat’s closest port is Geelong; therefore, the first railway tracks between the two cities began construction in 1858 and the line was officially opened by Governor Barkly in 1862 to move people and cargo between the goldfields and the tall ships in Corio Bay. Interestingly, on its first journey to Ballarat, the train ran out of wood to fuel its steam engine, so the crew were forced to chop down some trees in Meredith to ensure the train made it to Ballarat. In 1889 the Melbourne-Ballarat line was opened. The station we now call ‘Ballarat’ used to be called ‘Ballarat West’ as Ballarat East had its own station which has now been demolished. The famous clock tower was added in 1891 as train travel by this time was proving extremely popular; however, as the clock itself was very expensive, it wasn’t installed until 1984!

The train’s arrival in Ballarat meant two very important things for the people of this region. It meant that individuals and businesses could receive their goods with a much cheaper delivery fee, and farmers etc. could send their produce to market much more easily. On the day the first train arrived, the train station was decorated with banners that said ‘Advance Ballarat’ and ‘Success to the Geelong-Ballarat Railway’ (Dooley, N. & King, D. The Golden Steam of Ballarat, Lowden Publishing, 1973, p4). Thousands of people gathered in Lydiard Street to welcome the train, and balls, dinners and parties were held all over the city to celebrate.


A history of Ballarat’s famous Phoenix Foundry. Find out more about this foundry and book here.

In addition to bringing the train line to the city to improve people’s lives, in 1873 Ballarat became one of the first Australian cities to manufacture trains. Ballarat’s Phoenix Foundry on Armstrong Street was the largest locomotive factory in Victoria until it ceased making engines in 1905. Businesses like the Phoenix Foundry couldn’t have existed without the railway close by.

While the train station gave Ballaratians easier access to Geelong and Melbourne, the Ballarat Train Station also provided people with access to leisure activities, like picnicking in places like Daylesford, and watching horseracing in Lal Lal. All around the station zone, city leaders have encouraged the building of what are now important Ballarat landmarks like:

To this day, the train station gives people access to all of these wonderful places in addition to important shopping areas and the Sturt Street sculpture gardens.

Trains gave Ballarat and its mines, factories and farms access to the big wide world. The locomotives that were manufactured here were a great source of pride for Ballaratians, as trains were a symbol of progress, technological skill, and serious financial investment for the city. Trains, like sailing ships in times past, and the cars and planes of today, changed our lives forever.

Links and References:

A fantastic video on the history of railroads around the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYAk5jCTQ3s

Some great interactive photographs of Ballarat ‘then and now’: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/1865396/ballarat-now-and-then-family-uncovers-historic-images/

The Ballarat train station on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat_railway_station

Horrible Histories on transport (song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLL2Txs8kCg

A short history of trains and stations in Ballarat: http://www.onmydoorstep.com.au/heritage-listing/68/ballarat-railway-complex

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

Béchervaise, J. & Hawley, G. Ballarat Sketchbook, Rigby Limited, Melbourne, 1977.

Butrims, R. & Macartney, D. Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat, Australian Railway Historical Society, 2013.

Dooley, N. & King, D. The Golden Steam of Ballarat, Lowden Publishing, 1973.

Fire in the 19th Century


Fire is an important yet destructive force in Australia.

Fire was an important tool for Australians new and old in the 19th century, but it could also be an enemy of gold miners and farmers alike.

Aboriginal People used fire to help them with hunting, and to promote the growth of valued edible and medicinal plants. This land management system also had the benefit of keeping “bush fuel” (leaf litter, fallen branches etc.) from building up to cause huge, dangerous fires. Many historians and scientists argue that Aboriginal People regularly and strategically burned parts of their country in this way for tens of thousands of years. Learn more about this here.

When large numbers of European People arrived in Victoria in the 1830s, a lot of land was cleared to grow more grass for sheep. The felled trees were used to build houses and fuel the fires people needed for cooking and heating, and later yet more trees were felled to reinforce the mineshafts and feed the boiler houses of Australia’s industrial revolution.

HH squattors

A page from Sovereign Hill’s new website about the Aboriginal side of the goldrush story. Learn more about Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People here.

In places like Ballarat where people searched for gold in deep quartz mines once the alluvial deposits dried up, gold workings relied on steam power, which came from boiler houses fuelled with wood taken from the surrounding bush.

By 1851, farming had changed much of Victoria’s landscape from what it looked like before European colonisation. Fire was no longer a key land management tool but instead a threat to fear. Very few Aboriginal communities were still able to routinely burn their country, which meant bush fuel had the opportunity to build up. Within 16 years of the arrival of European People, almost all of the farmable land in Victoria had been turned into private property owned by squatters (European farmers). View a map that outlines this sudden change to the Victorian landscape here.

Some historians argue that as a result of this change in land management systems, one of Australia’s largest fires in recorded history occurred in 1851, the same year gold was discovered. Black Thursday, as it was later called, saw a quarter of Victoria burn, killing 12 people and destroying 1 million sheep. There is a famous painting of this catastrophe at the State Library by celebrated goldrush artist William Strutt, entitled “Black Thursday, 6th February 1851”.

Ballarat’s firefighting history

SH Fire

Re-enacting how 19th century fire fighters put out a staged fire as part of Fire Awareness Week 2015 at Sovereign Hill.

European and later Chinese miners on the diggings needed to use fire daily to warm and light their huts, cook their food and boil their tea. However, due to a combination of highly flammable eucalypt trees growing around the township, and its many wooden buildings etc., it was no surprise that dangerous fires featured in people’s experiences of Ballarat goldrush life.

1 December 1855: Got into Ballarat by the Red Streak (coach service) where we beheld the scene of last night’s fire. The American Hotel, the Adams Express premises and a clothing establishment next to it, and all along to the Charlie Napier which, God knows, had escaped. Several stores on the opposite side of the street had caught and were burned down. Report says eleven lives have been lost. The proprietor, Nicholls, was awakened by the noise and left his room. When he got into the lobby he recollected having left his pocket book with £90 below his pillow and returned to get it, but this delay cost him his life for he got so severely burned that he died about 9 o’clock this morning.Victorian Goldfields Diary, manuscript diary by an unidentified prospector on the Ballarat and surrounding goldfields during 1855–1856.

As a result of the danger that fire presented to the community, Victorian towns established dedicated fire brigades to tackle fires caused by campfires, candles, oil lamps and lightning strikes. In 1856 Ballarat’s first fire brigade was formed and relied entirely on volunteers. Horse-drawn hose carriages and water carts raced to a fire when the alarm bell sounded. To fight a fire, firemen used leather buckets, hooks, ladders and tomahawks. Water was very precious,so instead of using it to fight the fire they often tore down buildings in the path of the fire to stop its spread.


The Yarrowee, an original, hand-operated pumping engine from the 19th century on display at Sovereign Hill.

Along with the famous burning down of James Bently’s Eureka Hotel in the lead up to the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, in 1859 the Ballarat Town Hall burned to the ground!

At Sovereign Hill we have built an Engine House based on a photograph of the nearby Smythesdale Fire Brigade Hall of the mid-1860s. The pumping engine it houses is an original Shand Mason hand-operated device, and is called the Yarrowee, probably after the nearby Yarrowee River. It was recently used during Fire Action Week to demonstrate how important fire fighters are in our community.

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association future fire plans

There is still a lot to learn about fire use and management here in Australia. As a result, members of our research team at Sovereign Hill are keen to test some land management techniques we think were used by Wadawurrung People in this region before European colonisation. At our 2000 hectare, historic pastoral property Narmbool, we are planning to control-burn a patch of grassland area to see if we can improve the growth of Kangaroo Grass. We hope this fire will also cause old seeds lying dormant in the soil to germinate and start growing interesting, indigenous plants that haven’t been seen on the property for over one hundred years. Many plants in Australia require fire to make their seeds germinate, they are called fire-promoting plants, like eucalypts. Other Australian plants are fire-tolerant, like grass trees, while others are fire-sensitive, like native orchids.

Links and references

Get prepared for bushfire season: https://schools.aemi.edu.au/bushfire/bushfires-be-prepared

A visual history of fire fighting in Victoria: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/history-timeline/

Ballarat Fire Brigade artefacts and photos: http://victoriancollections.net.au/organisations/ballarat-fire-brigade

A great article about Australia’s fire history: https://meanjin.com.au/blog/this-continent-of-smoke/

Wikipedia on the history of firefighting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_firefighting

The government Department of Primary Industries research into the effects of fire on Australian plants and animals:  http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/fire-and-emergencies/planned-burns/plants-and-animals

A CSIRO article about the differences between wildfires and “prescribed” fires: http://www.publish.csiro.au/onborrowedtime/docs/PCB_Ch11.pdf

Bradby, D. & Littlejohn, M. Our Stories: Life in Colonial Australia, Walker Books, 2015.