Tag Archives: racism

1850s Hair Dos and Don’ts

While you may think that hairdos in history aren’t really worth studying, they can actually tell us a lot about what life was like in the past. A hairdo can tell us about technology, through the kinds of products historical ‘dos’ required, or about fashion and making a statement, or about social class (whether you were rich or poor, powerful or powerless … ), and it can even be handy for dating historical paintings and photographs!

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A collection of unknown Ballarat women from the Gold Museum collection sporting a range of 19th century hairdos. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

For thousands of years, people have enjoyed using hair from their heads to decorate their bodies. Hair can be a very important part of someone’s identity; it can relate to religion, law (yes, there have been laws in history that have controlled hairdos!) or simply fashion, and, of course, hairdos are closely linked with humanity’s various and ever-changing ideas around beauty.

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Self-portrait of Queen Victoria, 1835. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

In the 19th century, hairdos for women in the British Empire (which included Australia) tended to follow the style of Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years. This powerful woman had a huge influence over all things fashion, and is even thought to be the bride who popularised the white wedding dress, which many women still wear today. Before her time, British women simply wore their best dress on their wedding day, whatever the colour. Fashions in both hair and clothes changed a great deal during her time as queen, as you can see here.

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The first known photograph of Queen Victoria, pictured here with her eldest daughter, c.1845. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

By the 1850s, Queen Victoria tended to wear her hair parted in the middle. It was either pulled back behind the ears (which would then be covered by a day cap/bonnet), or would be used to cover the ears when a head covering wasn’t necessary (at a ball, for example). Otherwise, she, like the millions of women in her empire during this time in history, covered their heads out of Christian politeness, and always when outside (providing they could afford it!). Not only did wearing head coverings out of doors keep your hair clean before the invention of the shower and hair dryer, they tended to protect you from sunburn. And back then, fancy ladies wanted the whitest skin possible – ‘Only peasants and natives have tans!’. Beauty ideals like these demonstrate how acceptable racism (and classism) was in the 19th century.

For men, the beginning of the 1800s saw the end of elaborate powdered wigs and a return to natural hairstyles and colours. A few decades later and beards and moustaches also came into fashion. A male fashionista of the time, Beau Brummell, led the way with these new, relaxed, natural hairdos, which got shorter and more controlled as the century rolled on. Hair styling products such as hair oil became popular with men during this time; however, they didn’t have the means to wash it out like we do today (with shampoo) until the 1890s. The first shampoos were powders, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that we saw the invention of liquid shampoos.

Most people’s washing habits in 1850s Ballarat mirrored those practiced in England; however, clean water (that which wasn’t polluted by goldmining or human waste near it … ) on the diggings was often hard to come by. Miners and their wives would pay a lot of money – particularly during dry summers – for buckets of fresh water taken from what was then called Yuille’s Swamp (now Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree). Bathing usually only happened once a week (typically on Saturday nights so the family was clean for church on Sunday), but that bath wasn’t for washing hair, and besides, you had to share the water with your entire family because it was so scarce!

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Photograph of an unknown man dubbed the “Chinese Giant”, 1870. Notice his long queue. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum. 

Of course there were many nationalities present on the Ballarat goldfields, which meant yet more hair styles could be seen around 1850s Ballarat. One of the most striking hairstyles common during this era was the ‘queue’ worn by Ballarat’s many Chinese miners. Back in China, it was compulsory for men to sport this ‘do’, which involved shaving the front of the head, and growing the back very long and wearing it in a plait. The Aboriginal people of this region – the Wadawurrung people – may have worn their hair differently to the Europeans and the Chinese; however, from the limited photographic evidence we have, many appear to have adopted European hairstyles by this time.

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Marcel curlers, also known as hot curling irons or hot curling tongs. 

An exploration of 19th century hair in Australia wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fashion for hair artworks and even hair jewellery, which was commonly something a lady would give to her lover, or someone would make from the hair of a recently deceased loved one. You can see lots of examples of this curious practice here. Another weird habit of European women in the 1800s was the collecting of hair from a hairbrush to use as padding to create certain hairdos. Hair was collected in a ‘hair receiver’ and then moulded as required into a ‘rat’ to place inside a bun or to give hair volume. Lastly, the rather terrifying ‘Marcel Wave’ hair curler became popular towards the end of the century, even though it was very easy to burn your hair off while using it – it was heated in the fire before being applied to hair!

Links and References

A pictorial overview of Victorian hair styles: http://www.whizzpast.com/victorian-hairstyles-a-short-history-in-photos/

A series of videos on this history of women’s hairdos (Eurocentric): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGc2ylEgfQ&list=PLWpk-1VZu_yM5ms7Mm1wBirhm5G1UPOwZ

A brief visual history of men and women’s hairdos through history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVr8W6HME4A

A video on the history of shampoo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEjeTYzZjzg

Horrible Histories on Incan shampoo…: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqWoWscljQs

A great history of hair from the Chertsey Museum: http://chertseymuseum.org/hair

A great BBC article on the history of the wedding dress: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140503-how-wedding-dresses-evolved

A woman’s life on the Ballarat goldfield: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf

What was the Anti-Chinese League?

Every day at 12noon in Sovereign Hill’s Victoria Theatre, a group of the Outdoor Museum’s wonderful actors present a pretend community meeting called the ‘Anti-Chinese League’. What is it about?

The experiences of Chinese miners on the Victorian goldfields

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19th century Chinese gold miners. Artist and date unknown.

Most Chinese miners arrived in Ballarat in the late 1850s (their population peaked in 1857 at approximately 7,542, or a fifth of Ballarat’s population). These Chinese people were the only cultural group on the Victorian goldfields to be forced to live in segregated camps. At most, there were 6 Chinese camps in Ballarat during this time in history. These camps were often deliberately built (on guidelines from the British Government of Victoria, called the ‘Colony of Victoria’) in the worst parts of the settlement, usually at the bottom of a hill where all of the nearby human/animal waste would flow when it rained. This was one strategy the government used to try to discourage more Chinese from coming to Australia. The Chinese were quite determined to be successful in Australia however. So, many used this free ‘fertiliser’ to grow productive vegetable gardens.

The Chinese were also forced to pay a Residence Tax and Protection Fee to the government once they arrived on the goldfields, which at times was as high as $1,000 per month in today’s money! Again, they were the only cultural group in Victoria to be treated like this.

But worst of all, the government imposed an Arrival Tax that only applied to the Chinese. This tax of £10 would be equal to almost $10,000 today!! This huge amount of money was to be paid by every Chinese person who arrived by ship in Victoria. To avoid this tax, many Chinese miners arrived in Robe, South Australia, and walked from there to Ballarata distance of 400kms!

Why were the Chinese discriminated against?

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Typical living conditions for Chinese miners on the Victorian goldfields (visit Sovereign Hill’s Chinese Camp to see more examples like this). 

Today, Ballarat is proud of its multicultural community, but during the 1850s gold rushes there were many European miners on the diggings who wanted to keep Chinese people out of Australia. And, unfortunately for the Chinese, many members of the British Government of Victoria at this time also wanted them gone. By today’s standards, it could be said that many of these Europeans both in Ballarat and in the British Government of Victoria were quite racist towards the Chinese, and caused them to suffer both on the journey to Ballarat, and while they were searching for gold like the thousands of others on the Victorian diggings.

(A 21st century) Definition of racism

  • The belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.
  • Offensive or aggressive behaviour to members of another race stemming from such a belief.
  • A policy or system of government based on it.

(http://www.racismnoway.com.au/teaching-resources/factsheets/9.html)

Why does racism exist?

There were many cultural differences between Chinese and European people on the diggings. A fear of difference is often the cause of racism, and sadly this is true in Australia even today. People who look different to you, or practise a different culture or religion etc. are no better than you, no worse. They are just different. If everyone on Earth was the same, what a boring planet this would be!

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Students learning about Chinese religion on the goldfields at Sovereign Hill’s Joss House, located in the Chinese Camp.

Here’s a table demonstrating some key cultural differences between most Europeans and most Chinese in Ballarat in the 19th century. You can imagine that a 19th century European might have been shocked to meet a Chinese person for the first time, and visa-versa because of such cultural differences. This experience is called ‘first contact’.

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European miners

Chinese men wore their hair in long plaits called queues – Chinese law said they had to wear their hair like this. Most European men wore their hair neat and short unless they were really scruffy miners. Hair styles could depend on one’s social class.
The most popular religions in China during the gold rushes were Taoism, Chinese folk religion (ancestral worship), Chinese Buddhism, and Confucianism. Most Europeans were a kind of Christian: Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, Presbyterian etc.
Chinese miners typically wore silk or cotton outfits called tangzhuang or changshun and often wore no shoes or hats. European miners typically wore shirts, jackets, waistcoats and trousers made of cotton or wool, along with thick leather boots. They always wore hats when they were outside.
Most of the 1850-60s Chinese miners had a farming background and had lived in the countryside. Most of the Europeans had an industrial background and had lived in big cities.
Most of the Chinese here in Ballarat during the gold rushes spoke Cantonese. Most Europeans spoke English.

The British Government of 19th century Victoria was motivated to keep the Chinese out of Australia because Britain was at war with China over the sale of opium, a dangerous and addictive drug. The British wanted to sell (Indian) opium to the people of China in return for tea (the favourite drink of the British Empire) and silk, but the Chinese Emperor was worried about the high numbers of his people whose lives were being ruined by this drug. As a result, China and Britain (with the help of France the second time) fought two ‘Opium Wars’, the first from 1839-42, and the second from 1856-60.

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Sovereign Hill celebrates Chinese New Year every year to acknowledge the Chinese community’s contribution to 19th century Victoria. 

The main reason the government ultimately chose to make life difficult for the Chinese in Australia was due to loud, but small groups of Europeans on the various Victorian diggings who often called themselves an ‘Anti-Chinese League’. They complained about the Chinese so much that the government felt it had to do something. Here are some of the main arguments used by racist European miners etc. which encouraged the government to create policies like the Arrival Tax and the Residence Tax (apart from using it as a general way to make money through taxes, like a Gold Licence [before 1854], for example).

The text in italics represents the kinds of opinions held by members of the Anti-Chinese League.

More detail on these complaints from Europeans can be found here.

Sadly, many Chinese miners on the Australian goldfields experienced violence at the hands of Europeans who held these racist views. Some even had their queues (long hair braids) cut off, and occasionally they were even scalped!

The Anti-Chinese League (pretend) meeting at Sovereign Hill

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Sovereign Hill’s actors hard at work.

Sovereign Hill’s talented actors perform this pretend Anti-Chinese League meeting and talk to the audience afterwards to explore this dark, racist part of Victoria’s history. Many audience members are shocked by what they hear our actors say during this performance, but ultimately it gives people the opportunity to think about and discuss the dangerous impact that racism can have on Australia.

Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, come along and see this provocative performance for yourself!

Links & References

A great video about the common experiences of Chinese people on the goldfields: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFEbNtTf4l4

Anti-Chinese League Meeting at Sovereign Hill Debriefing Notes and Questions for Teachers: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Anti-Chinese-League-Meeting-atSovereign-Hill.pdf

Research notes for primary students made by Sovereign Hill Education: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-Chinese-notes-ps1.pdf

For secondary students: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-chinesesballarat-notes-ss1.pdf

Sovereign Hill Education’s free ‘Chinese on the Goldfields’ teaching kit: https://www.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/New-Gold-Mountain.pdf

The State Library of Victoria study notes on Victoria’s 19th century Chinese community: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/life-fields/chinese

A summary of the Australian gold rushes, with detail on the racism experienced by the Chinese: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-gold-rush

SBS Gold on the experiences of the Chinese: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=46

A newspaper article which provides a fascinating insight into 19th century racism in Australia towards Chinese people: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4090625

Sovereign Hill Education notes for students on some of the most interesting goldrush characters from Ballarat, including John Alloo (successful restaurant owner, and Ah Koon (Chinese Camp Headman and interpreter): http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Characters_of_the_Goldfields.pdf

Details on the violent riots against the Chinese that happened across Australia in the mid-19th century: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=56

A video on the Chinese history of Bendigo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO2JUIoC82E

The history of Chinese Australians: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Chinese_Australians

Racism and taxes: life for the Chinese on the Goldfields

Chinese migrants played a very significant role on the Ballarat Goldfields, and elsewhere around Victoria, making up approximately 20% of all males in Ballarat.  They were known for being hard-working and peaceful people, however their experience of the gold rush was marred by racism and discriminatory politics.

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