Pioneering Families of Australia

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Children on the Goldfields

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,

All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?

Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track -

What must Dobbin think of it - three upon his back?

Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,

Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.

 

Now they're coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.

See them at the corner where the gums grow big;

Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun -

Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:

Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,

Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

 

CJ Dennis

 

Many children went to the goldfields with their parents and many more were born there, by December 1852 there were almost 12000 children on the Victorian diggings.

 

Between them Bridget Kersley and Elisabeth Diedrich gave birth to 23 children in the Goldfields during the years 1856 to 1875 in such places as Beechworth and Reid's Creek, Bendigo and St Arnaud.

 

Children worked equally hard and their daily tasks ensured the smooth running of the home: they carried wood, looked after the tent or hut, cared for the horses and fossicked among the ‘tailings’ or left-over gravel and sand.  Older children were expected to work as hard as adults.

 

Most children learnt at an early age to help find gold by using the puddling pan or dish. This meant collecting clay and gravel from the creek bed, carefully tipping off the stones and gravel with some water, and then mixing the wet clay with a stick, and allowing the heavy gold to sink to the bottom. More water was added and the clay carefully washed off over the sides of the pan. This process was repeated until the glittering gold could be picked out and put aside. It was sort of like making mud pies, but much more serious.

 

Some parent sent their children to school on the diggings. Goldfields schools started in tents, some of which were big enough to hold up to a hundred children, sitting at long wooden benches.  Teachers were scarce and if the families up and moved to another goldfield, often the teachers did too.

Mud pies with glitter ....

kids-28 children on the goldfields

Little is know of where Oliver Devlin was appointed as a teacher, we know he arrived in 1860 and was appointed by the Victorian Government but his school is not known.  As he courted and eventually married Marion Stokes from Gisborne, it is possible he was based in the Mt. Macedon area, however on his marriage certificate he gave his "usual place of abode" as Tarawingee which is on the Beechworth to El Dorado Road; I like to think he was a goldfields teacher.

 

For children living on the goldfields life could seem like a great adventure one day, and very difficult and harsh the next.

 

The constant moving from one diggings to the next meant  lessons were interrupted, friends were made and lost and often at the next diggings, no schooling was available at all.

 

Many parents were unable to teach their children, due to their own lack of education or their non English speaking background.