Registered: Apr 2000
posted 03-09-2011 10:09 AM
Since gold is so much in the news lately, here is my ancestor's account of the 1850s gold rush in Australia. A historical society in the motherland (Nottingham) emailed the text of the diary to my mom; it was written while my ancestor sojourned in Australia from 1852-6. It is much too long to post in its entirety here. It talks about the difficult 4-month voyage, various successes and failures in the field, and the Eureka Rebellion. The last is probably the most interesting and dramatic part, so the excerpts below mostly concern that.
FYI: to help with the figures below, £1 in 1860 is about £63 today (about $102 by today's exchange rate)
- Dec. 11, 1852:
I stayed [working on a farm] eight weeks and cleared 20£ or maybe more but I began to be tired of this I had too much work on Sundays and I never got to chapel so I went to see Bryan and we agreed to go to the gold diggings.
- June 25th, 1853:
I came up again to the diggings and brought with me 50£ we thought we would stay till it was all spent if we got no gold. We continued to work six months longer but got very little gold. We were disappointed with every hole that we dug and were losing money all the time, paying 30s per month each for our licences and everything very dear. Flour sometimes 1s per pound and never less than 6 pence, meat from 6d to 9d per pound, butter from 3 to 5 per pound tea and coffee 2/6 per pound and other things in proportion. All this time we could see some people getting gold in abundance and others none at all. At one time we had almost got to the last pound that we had. About this time we wanted two other mates to assist us with a hole that we were sinking who paid 50£ each to join our party making 11 of us altogether. They were to pay 50£ more each if the hole was good, which it proved to be, for in a month after this, when we had worked out the hole and the party had separated, Bryan and myself had in our possession considerably more than 1000£. It was 145 feet deep. We washed fifteen pounds weight of gold out of two bucketsful of dirt, ten pounds out of two more and seven pounds out of two more. We finished this hole on the 9th January 1854.
- June 8th:
Gave a tray at a tea meeting held at the opening of a new Wesleyan chapel, Clayton Hill and as we were two bachelors we engaged a young lady to make tea. Our tray was best supplied of any of them and we also took the most money.
- July 8th:
Finished this hole, made about 130£ each in eight weeks.
- Sept 18th:
Took in another mate on payment of 250£. My share of this has nearly paid me back my first 25£. There are 12 of us now and we are all teatotals and 9 of us Wesleyans.
- Oct 17th:
We have had a great rebellion here today, about a man that has been murdered here lately. A publican was taken in charge, suspected of being the murderer who keeps a very disorderly house on the diggings such as is hardly safe for any person to pass after dark. On the day of his trial, as far as could be seen, there appeared to be plenty of evidence to convict him but the magistrate appeared to smooth it over and to conceal a great deal of the evidence and to the surprise of all, acquitted him. It was thought that he was bribed.
However the diggers would not pass over the matter so quietly and they resolved to look into the matter themselves. What excited them the more was that the accused murderer had been let out on bail until the day of his trial. A few days after his trial, printed bills were stuck up on the tree stumps all over the diggings announcing that a meeting would be held on the spot where the man was murdered to consider the case and obtain further evidence if possible.
Accordingly, on the day appointed, several thousands assembled near the place and after a few speeches and addresses had been made the people began to be rather excited. The accused man without any hat or coat had jumped on a horse and fled for his life and given the alarm at the camp, the police force were all sent off directly to endeavour to disperse the mob.
A regiment of soldiers also sent to assist them, all the magistrates and commissioners were there too. One of them endeavoured to read the riot act but was pelted with rotten eggs, glass bottles and several of them tried to speak to the mob but they would not hear them. One of them asked if this was the conduct of British subjects, the reply was we will have British justice. The mob growing more and more excited entered the public house and began throwing things out of the windows, while some of them outside were destroying them and others carrying home anything valuable they could get. Others were smashing the windows and tearing down the front of the house, while some at the back were setting fire to some of the buildings. In about an hour the house and all the buildings were a heap of ashes. The soldiers and the police did nothing but look on all the time. The people dispersed as soon as the fire went down.
In the afternoon the police were taking one or two of the ringleaders to the camp, when a party of diggers met them and compelled them to set the men at liberty. As soon as the news reached Geelong there was great excitement. 500£ reward and a free pardon was offered to any one connected with the murder to turn Queens Evidence. One man, a servant in the house, has given evidence against the master of the house and another, for having murdered the man and they have both been committed for trial.
A few days since, six men armed with revolvers entered the Bank of Victoria in the middle of the day and having secured the clerk or stuck them up, as it is called here, they took possession of coin, notes and gold, to the value of 13000£ and made their escape. We are getting on pretty well with our holes. We have sold 3 half shares in Bryans hole for 50£ each and given two quarters for two men to work 2 half shares in mine for 40£ each and given one quarter, we have not much chance to get the gutter now, except in my hole which yet stands very well.
- Nov 28th:
There is a great deal of agitation amongst the people here. A society has been formed called the Ballarat Reform League who are continually stirring up the people against the Government. A company of soldiers have arrived here today from Melbourne and in passing through the diggings where followed by a large mob who shouted them and pelted them stones, glass bottles and anything they could get. They turned over the drays containing their baggage and beat the horses shamefully. They broke one mans leg and anothers jaw and I have heard that two have since died of injuries they received.
- Nov 30th:
The police came out today to look at licences but were almost driven back by the mob. When all the soldiers, both foot and horse came to their assistance and the riot act was read but all passed off without any bloodshed one of the police was knocked down by a digger and an officer immediately fired at him but he fortunately escaped.
- Dec 1st:
Great excitement again today. The riot act has again been read and the mob twice dispersed by the soldiers and police. Parties of the rebels, who are armed, have been going about the diggings entering stores and private tents and demanding firearms and ammunition. Others have been trying to press people to fight against the Government and threatening to shoot them if they refused to go. Men, women and children might be seen running into the bush to escape from the mob. No person is safe now either himself or is property.
The mob having seized all the fire arms, ammunition, swords, axes and all kinds of weapons are now taking all the horses and saddles they can find, even taking them out of loaded drays and appropriating them to their own use. They have been drilling and marching about the diggings all day. No work has been allowed to go on the last two or three days. Parties who attempt to work being told that if they don’t leave of work they will have a bullet sent through them. The mob have been making a sort of barricade round three of four acres of the ground, with logs of wood slabs and inside which they intend to fight if attacked. The authorities at the camp don’t seem to interfere at all, only to be acting the defensive.
- Dec 3rd:
Sunday Was awakened about 4 o’clock this morning by the sudden discharge of a volley of musketry, which continued without ceasing for about ten minutes. The bullets whizzing past our tent, all the time quite close, but none of them hurt us or the tent. It was the soldiers who had come down from the camp to route the diggers. As soon as the diggers saw them they fired on them. The soldiers returned fire and the diggers were confused and hundreds of them run into the bush. The soldiers surrounded a number of them, some of whom threw down their arms and gave themselves up to the mercy of the soldiers but some would not give up but fought desperately to the last. When the soldiers had taken all the prisoners they could, about 150, they returned to camp. When they were gone I walked to the spot and there saw the bleeding corpses of about fifteen poor men. Several others were wounded, some of them just passing into eternity, others having their wounds dressed by the doctor and others being carried away on boards by their mates who had come out to look for them and others lay covered with a blanket, seeming as if they had no friend to care for them in the hour of trouble. Men and women might be seen with tearful eyes anxiously looking, some for a lost friend or brother and some for a lost husband. Two of the soldiers were killed and five wounded. Most of the tents that were near the spot and several large stores were burnt down. Returned home and went chapel as usual. Everything is now very quite. In the afternoon notices were stuck up requesting all peacefully disposed persons to return to their work in the morning.
Went to work as usual but very little work was done as there was scarcely a party but what had some of their men missing. Reports keep coming about more prisoners being taken and some being shot. I have also heard of some of the troopers being shot while out in the bush. In the evening several shots were fired at the camp and one of the sentries killed by a ball from the diggers, another being obliged to have his leg taken off. Another ball passed right through the Commissioners tent as he sat getting his tea. After this, the sentries fired amongst the diggers at almost every tent where they could see a light, several persons being wounded. I saw one man’s hat that a ball had passed through when it was on his head, he being at work, but he was not hurt. Orders had been previously given that no light would be allowed in any tent after eight o’clock.
Notices have been given out today that Marshall law will be in force tomorrow after 12 o’clock. A large company of soldiers, I suppose about six or seven hundred, arrived here today. They were allowed to pass through the diggings very quietly no one daring to molest them or shout after them this time, as a large majority of the diggers are peaceably disposed and against taking up arms to oppose government. A large meeting was held by the permission in order for them to be reconciled to the government and to beg them not to adopt more severe measures than were really necessary as in many cases the innocent had to suffer with the guilty. Resolutions were passed to this effect and a deputation sent to the camp.
Marshall law has been repealed today and everything is going on about as usual but a great loss will be felt by many parties, who have partly worked their claims from the quantity of water which has accumulated and which will do a great deal of damage. The stoppage of work for four or five days will very likely cause us a months work in our holes.