Tag Archives: historical recreations

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Fire in the 19th Century

Capture

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.

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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

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A re-enactment of 19th century fire fighters putting 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.

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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.

Weird and wonderful goldfields history. Part one.

Animals

TigerDuring the Christmas school holiday period this year Sovereign Hill has focussed on some of the strange but true stories of the Ballarat gold rush period. These have included stories about a deep sea diver, zebra, tiger and diggers dressed as women.  As entertaining as these weird and wonderful stories have been, we must remember that as a museum it is our responsibility to be as accurate in our portrayal of goldfields’ history as possible.

ZebraFor that reason all of these activities had to have some basis in fact, and this makes the stories even better. In this Blog we will explore two of these activities and the amazing true stories that they are based on.

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The Walk from Robe: Retracing the Chinese Journey to the Goldfields

From Left; Oscar Zhang, Charles Zhang and Bill Moy From the CACSB

From Left; Oscar Zhang, Charles Zhang and Bill Moy From the CACSB standing in front of the Chinese Temple at Sovereign Hill

On the 15th of December 2013, Charles Zhang and his son Oscar will begin to retrace the footsteps of the Chinese prospectors, who travelled from Robe in South Australia to the Victorian Goldfields. The re-enactment is planned to take 15 days, with Charles and Oscar travelling approximately 35 kilometres per day. Before they leave Ballarat on their way to Robe, Charles, Oscar and Bill Moy visited the Chinese Temple at Sovereign Hill to ask for permission and good fortune from their ancestors during their adventure. Their walk from Robe to Ballarat will also end at Sovereign Hill on Saturday the 28th of December. Charles Oscar and Bill are all members of the Chinese Australian Cultural Society of Ballarat (CACSB). Interestingly they represent different generations of Chinese immigrating to Ballarat. Bill’s Ancestors came to Ballarat during the Gold Rush. Charles and Oscar represent more recent arrivals to our city.

The Aim of the walk is to follow the route taken by the Chinese miners. Oscar and Charles will commemorate the contribution made by the Chinese gold diggers on the Central Victoria Goldfields, while promoting rural Australian towns and cities.

Pot for Incense burning with Jade talismans and a coin given to Charles with links to the Avoca Goldfileds. These will be carried on the journey.

Pot for Incense burning with Jade talismans and a coin given to Charles with links to the Avoca Goldfileds. These will be carried on the journey.

Regular details, stories & photos will be posted on the Chinese Australian Cultural Society Ballarat website: www.chineseballarat.org.au and Ballarat Community Radio Station 99.9 Voice FM: www.voicefm.com.au. We will also attempt to keep this post updated with information about the progress of the walk.

Chinese coin from Avoca

Chinese coin from Avoca

So keep coming back to follow our intrepid adventurers on their special voyage.

**Historical Note**

The Chinese were forced to travel overland from South Australia, due to an immigration tax imposed on them by the Victorian Colonial Government. The Government were concerned by the numbers of Chinese travelling to the goldfields, and tried using taxes to stop immigration from China. You can read more about this at Heritage Australia and our previous blog: Racism and Taxes: Life for the Chinese on the Goldfields

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Goldfields Entertainment

Bowling Alleys on the Goldfields

Once again a question from a student has inspired an idea for this blog. A student from Wesley College, Clunes campus wanted to know more about bowling saloons on the goldfields, similar to Sovereign Hill’s Empire Bowling Saloon.

Re-setting the pins at Sovereign Hill's Empire Bowling Saloon

Re-setting the pins at Sovereign Hill’s Empire Bowling Saloon

This turned out to be quite a challenge, as there isn’t much information from the time about this sort of sporting or gaming entertainment. However, we have managed to find some information about them. Continue reading

School Anniversary Events

Planning an Anniversary Event at your school

Many schools plan history events for significant anniversaries of their school’s founding.  These events are a great way to immerse students in history that is directly relevant to them and their communities.  We often have queries for ideas and support of these events, so we thought we’d share with you some of our tips for holding a great anniversary event.

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Nice teeth… and other historical inaccuracies

If there is one thing that most historical recreations get wrong, it’s probably teeth.  Dental care in the past, like most of the medical profession, was generally dreadful.  Consequently many people would have had rotten, missing or crude false teeth.  Even here at Sovereign Hill, most of us have a good set of chompers… certainly a greater number than would have been the reality in the 1850’s!

Dental care of the past: a soldier receiving dental treatment c.1915-1918 (Image from the State Library of Victoria)

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