Goldfields Quotes

A Note for Teachers

These files have been created to make primary sources of information more accessible to students.

  • They are deliberately short.
  • The audio files are designed to make difficult historic text come to life for students
  • The text is provided so students can read along
  • We have tried to model good referencing techniques

Science, Technology and Luck

Gold in the Grass Roots – William Howitt

“Yet out of the very roots of the grass we shake gold. We can see the particles shining as we open pieces of the grass roots, …”

(William Howitt Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria Longmans, London, 1855 quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed) History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. pp 48 and 49)

Tragedy in Peg Leg Gully – C Rudston Read

“Four brothers were digging in Peg Leg Gully, endeavouring to bottom a hole again that had been filled up during the floods … One of the banks slightly giving way, they endeavoured to keep it up (when too late) with shores, branches of trees etc. Whilst in the act of doing this, the younger brother, who was down in the pit, stuck fast …finding he could not extricate himself, his brothers immediately rendered their assistance; this was to no avail, and immediately they called for help.

In less than a minute many arrived with ropes, buckets, bailers, shovels scoops &c. and set to work endeavouring to clear away the stuff, and some sailors dropping down got him slung, when every one that could get hold, tried to pull him out, he was at the same time having his arms around his elder brother’s neck … but it was of no avail, the stuff slowly filled in upon him, and as it rose the poor brother was compelled to let him go to save his own life, and the unfortunate lad was smothered.”

(C Rudston Read, What I Heard, Saw and Did at the Australian Goldfields T.&W. Boone, London, 1853 as quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed) History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 102)

Goldfields Life – The Good Old Days?

Strange and Pathetic Cases – William Howitt

Invalid Digger by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

Invalid Digger by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

“In fact, he appeared on the very verge of consumption (a disease of the lungs), and said he had been a year and a half in the colony; that he had been to all the diggings, both in Sydney and Victoria, but everywhere with the same absolute want of luck; that everywhere he had been pursued by dysentery, or some other exhausting complaint …he had no means of carrying his tent and tools away.”

(William Howitt Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria Longmans, London, 1855 quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed) History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 58)

Flies! – William Howitt

“ The little black-devil fly all day attacked our eyes, nose and mouth: and great blowflies in thousands blew our blankets, rugs and everything woollen, all over with their maggots, which were at once dried upon by the sun. They covered spaces of a foot square at once with them, all adhering by a sort of gluiness.”

(William Howitt Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria Longmans, London, 1855 quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed) History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 110)

The Women of Bendigo – William Howitt

“The women of Bendigo are much more neatly dressed than you would expect … There is no lack of handsome mantillas, polkas, smart bonnets, and parasols. … Yet, in a morning , you may often see these ladies – and very often, too, smart young girls, not more than fifteen- hanging out their wash, busy at their cooking, or chopping wood with great axes, which they seem not to swing, but which rather swing them, as they cut splinters from the stumps which ornament this digger landscape …

As to girls marrying here-the great temptation- that is soon accomplished.- for I hear lots of diggers get married almost every time they go down to Melbourne to spend their gold. A lot of the vilest scoundrels are assembled here from the four winds of heaven. Nobody knows them; much less whether they have left wives behind them in their own country.”

(William Howitt Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria Longmans, London, 1855 quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed) History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 129)

The Amiable Female – Ellen Clacy

Our Volunteer Maria playing the part of a sly grog seller

Our Volunteer Maria playing the part of a sly grog seller

“ Whilst her husband was at work farther down the gully, she kept a sort of sly-grog shop, and passed the day selling and drinking spirits, swearing, and smoking a short tobacco-pipe at the door of her tent. She was a most repulsive looking object. A dirty, gaudy-coloured dress hung unfastened about her shoulders, course black hair unbrushed, uncombed, dangled about her face, over which her evil habits had spread a genuine bacchanalian glow, whilst in a loud masculine voice she uttered the most awful words that ever disgraced the mouth of man – ten thousand times more awful when proceeding from a woman’s lips”

(Mrs Charles (Ellen) Clacy, A lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852 – 53 Hurst& Blackett, London, 1853 as quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed) History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 134)

Survey of Bendigo, early 1850s – James Bonwick

“ We live in canvas homes, or huts of bark and logs…Our furniture is of simple character. A box, a block of wood, or a bit of paling across a pail, serves as a table … We have those who indulge in plates, knives and forks but … the washing of plates and cleaning of knives and forks require an application of cleanliness most foreign to the … diggings. Besides, chops can be picked out of the frying pan, placed on a lump of bread, and cut with a clasp knife that has done good service in fossicking during the day”

… “And yet, in spite of the weather, exposure, dust, mud, filth, flies and fleas, the diggings have such attractions that even the unlucky must come back for another trial. The wild, free and independent life appears the great charm. They have no masters. They go where they please and work when they will.”

James Bonwick, Notes of a Gold Digger and Gold Digger’s Guide,  E. Connebee, Melbourne, 1852 as quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed)  History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 157 &159

Never shall I forget that scene  – Ellen Clacy

“Never shall I forget that scene, it well repaid a journey even of sixteen thousand miles. The trees had been all cut down; it looked like a sandy plain, or one vast unbroken succession of countless gravel pits.”

Ellen Clacy, A Lady’s Visit to the Gold-Diggings of Australia in 1852-3, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1963 (first published 1853)

Night at the diggings – Ellen Clacy 

“Night at the diggings is the characteristic time; murder here – murder there – revolvers cracking – blunderbusses (big firearms) bombing – rifles going off – balls whistling – one man groaning with a broken leg – another shouting because he couldn’t find his way to his hole, and a third equally vociferous (loud) because he has tumbled into one – this man swearing – another praying – a party of bacchanals (drunks) chanting various ditties to different time and tune, or rather minus both.”

Ellen Clacy, A Lady’s Visit to the Gold-Diggings of Australia in 1852- 3, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1963 (first published 1853)

The Commissioner’s Report – John Richard Hardy, first Gold Commissioner in New South Wales Camp, June 1851

…I am happy to say that I have not experienced the slightest trouble or annoyance from any person here; they refer all their disputes to me without attempting to settle them by violence, and submit to my decision without murmur. I have not sworn in any special constables; it is perfectly unnecessary, for everything goes on in as orderly and quiet a manner as in the quietest English town. There is no drinking or rioting going on.”

(John Richard Harding, Further Papers Rel;ative to The Discovery of Gold in Australia, Parliamentary Papers, Great Britain and Ireland, H.M. Stationery Office, 1852 as quoted in Nancy Keesing (ed)  History of the Australian Gold Rushes by those who were there. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne 1981 edition. P 26 & 27)

What Men! – William Howitt

S.T.Gill - Australian Sketch Book- Gold Museum Collection

S.T.Gill – Australian Sketch Book- Gold Museum Collection

“What men! and what costumes! Huge burly fellows with broad, battered straw or cabbage-tree hats, huge beards, loose blue shirts, and trowsers (sic) yellow with clay and earth, many of them showing that they had already been digging in Sydney, where there is so much gold, but according to fame, not so abundant or so pure as in this colony; almost every man had a gun, or pistols in his belt, and a huge dog, half hound half mastiff, led by a chain. Each had his bundle, containing his sacking to sleep upon, his blanket and such slight change of linen as these diggers carry. They had, besides, their spades and picks tied together; and thus they marched up the country, bearing with them all they want, and lying out under the trees.”

William Howitt, Land, Labour, and Gold: or Two Years in Victoria With Visits to Sydney and Van Diemon’s Land, Longmans, London,1855

One response to “Goldfields Quotes

  1. Pingback: Alcohol on the Goldfields | Sovereign Hill Education

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