Tag Archives: law and order

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

The Goldfields Police

This post was inspired by an inquiry from a Year 9 student. Thank you Arron.

The origins of public policing

Propelled by the discovery of gold, the nature of policing in Victoria changed dramatically during the 1850s. These changes aimed to develop a united professional police force, based on a model of civil policing introduced in Britain by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.

The introduction of Peel’s model of civil policing in Britain in 1829 is now seen as a great leap forward in law and order. At the time, Peel’s model was controversial because it took the responsibility of policing away from local control and placed it in the hands of the government. The British public feared a police force used by the government to keep itself in power.

London Police Uniform 1829

London Police Uniform 1829

To help people accept this new form of policing, Peel’s model had several developments. These included police having no weapons except a concealed club and a rattle to attract attention; not accepting men of military rank or influence within the Government; and applying methods of crime prevention, rather than punishment. Police were assigned to a particular district, which was then divided into beats. A policeman would get to know his beat, and this would help him detect crime. Regulations and manuals regarding civil policing duties were also published.  The distinctive police uniform functioned to make people aware of the police presence and minimise accusations of police acting as spies.    Police were also ordered to be civil towards all members of the public. This civility extended to the point of accepting ridicule without any argument. You can read more about the development of Peel’s police here.

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Alcohol on the Goldfields

Where and what did diggers drink?

This blog was inspired by a speech given by our CEO, Dr Jeremy Johnson in April 2010 at  the University of Ballarat Beer Awards. The speech was based on research done by Sovereign Hill’s Senior Historian, Dr Jan Croggon. The speech was recorded and an audio file is available at the end of this blog.

The problem of alcohol and young men

Diggers of low degree, S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

“Diggers of low degree”, S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

The colonial government of Victoria was incredibly worried about alcohol on the goldfields. The population of Victoria before 1860 was mainly young men, and the authorities were concerned that over indulgence in alcohol could lead to a breakdown in law and order in the colony. For that reason an act was passed to prohibit alcohol from being sold on the goldfields. This act allowed for harsh penalties if you were caught manufacturing or selling liquor.  A first offence carried a £50 fine, whereas threatening with a pistol might only incur a fine of £5. The Act was policed by plain clothes men, who were given half of the £50 fine for a first offence, and then, because a second offence brought months of hard labour, and no profit for the police, they resorted to blackmail, taking £5 whenever they felt like it.

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Indigenous Stories of the Goldfields

Exploration/Law and Order

This Blog may contain images and names of deceased people, it may also contain words and descriptive terms that may be offensive to Indigenous Australians.

Bushmans Hut by S. T. Gill.

Bushmans Hut by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection.

Often the perceptions that are held of Aboriginal people during the Gold Rush period of Australian history were that; Aboriginal people were marginalised and only involved on the periphery of mining areas, that they did not understand what was happening and, the experience of Aboriginal people was very negative. Now a new book is casting a whole different perspective on Aboriginal involvement in Goldfields history. “Black Gold” by Dr Fred Cahir of the University of Ballarat provides a wider view of the contributions made by Aboriginal people during the Gold Rush era of Australian history. Dr Cahir gives specific examples to show the contribution to goldfields life by Aboriginal people, in exploration, and Law and Order in Goldfields society. Continue reading

What caused the Eureka Stockade? – Part 2

How to find and piece together the events that led to the Eureka Stockade

Earlier this year we wrote about our Eureka Day celebrations where students relived some of the events that led up to the stockade.  Not all students have the opportunity to participate in an event such as this and so we wanted to share with students and teachers some other resources for finding out more about the Eureka rebellion and consider what caused the Eureka Stockade.

So what did cause the Eureka Stockade?

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Captain Moonlite

Following Sunday’s (2/10) epidsode of Wild Boys it seems like there is one Bushranger that deserves a greater mention.  Captain Moonlite is not just a fictional TV character, he was a real person and one of the most infamous characters of the Ballarat goldfields region.

The producers of Wild Boys clearly based their Captain Moonlite on the real man and they have included a number of acurate details.  We thought we would take the oppotunity to share some more about his life and some ideas for exploring this goldfields character and related topics in your classrooms.

Andrew George Scott (image: State Library Victoria)

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Bushrangers on the Goldfields

With the new popular TV program ‘Wild Boys’ gracing our screens it seems timely to discuss the presence of Bushrangers during the gold rushes.  While the TV show glosses over a few historical details, drawing on popular culture such as this can be used as a powerful hook to engage students in history.  They can even become historians who investigate the historical accuracy of such programs, from people and attitudes to building construction and details of daily life – an interesting and empowering activity no doubt.

Bushrangers certainly existed in colonial Australia and some thrived during the gold rush.  Unidentifiable gold was an alluring target, as were the many naive new chums arriving in the colony.   A large part of the British Redcoats‘ role in the colonies was to act as a gold escort between the diggings and Melbourne.   The situation was further affected by the presence of numerous ex-convicts harbouring resentment towards authority figures and the limited number of police; including some untrained and allegedly corrupt officers.  It was a potent mix and a complex social scenario.

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