Tag Archives: Victorian 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/