Pioneering Families of Australia


Life on the Goldfields


On hearing that there was gold to be found, thousands of people left their homes and jobs and set off to the diggings to find their fortune.


At the start of the gold rush, there were no roads to the goldfields, known as the diggings, and no shops or houses; in general it was virgin bush land.


The huge influx of people to the Ballarat area, all seeking to make their fortunes, created grave problems in keeping law and order, particularly at a time when thirty eight out of Melbourne's forty police officers, resigned and rushed to make their fortunes on the gold fields.


It was reported in the Argus of 1851 that...


"No wonder that the small shop keeper was shutting up and abandoning his counter; no wonder that seamen were running away from their ships, printers from their type, doctors from their drugs. In fact everything has assumed a revolutionary character."


Prospectors and their families had to carry everything they needed. They travelled by horse or bullock, or by walking with a wheelbarrow loaded with possessions. At first there were mainly men at the diggings, but later on they were joined by their families.

All that glitters ...

walkingtogoldfields reids creek Bendigo Goldfields, miners near St Arnaud.  Life on the goldfields.  Pioneering Familes of Australia

Victoria in particular saw a massive increase in the number of immigrants from German-speaking countries as thousands of adventurers arrived. By 1861 there were 10,418 German-born people in Victoria. According to the Victorian census of 1854, 41.76% of the Germans in the colony were on the goldfields; Germans were the third-largest ethnic group on the Victorian goldfields after the British and the Chinese. There were about 15 places named "German Gully" scattered across Victoria's mining districts at the peak of the colony's gold rushes. Gold-miners tended to stick together with other miners of their national background, and on large goldfields such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine the Germans had their own bands, clubs and Lutheran churches. Maldon had a Goethe Society for several years. It has been estimated that for a long time the number of German miners on the goldfields of Victoria was about 5,000. They left their influence in a variety of ways.  "German Track" - a bush track near Tarnagulla in the heart of Victoria's Golden Triangle. The track is close to German Gully, where German miners worked the Kangaroo Reef mine in the 1850s.

"Put it away Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut".


Sir George Phillips, 1844 after Reverend WB Clarke presented his gold discovery.

Gold in Australia before 1851 was a dangerous commodity. The Californian gold rush drew people from across the globe to the 'wild west' coast of America. It was feared a similar chaos would ensue if such discoveries were made in Australia, drawing a restless population of convicts and farm workers away from their posts. The existence of Australian gold in payable amounts was thus kept confidential by fearful authorities. But revelations of gold in NSW resulted in a substantial number of the small Melbourne population deserting their posts, and so a reward was offered to anybody finding gold within 200 miles of Melbourne.   Gold had already been discovered and was being kept a secret but the word soon got out.

prospecting for gold, life onthe Victorian Goldfields, Historic Beechworth, Pioneering families of Australia.  Living conditions on the Goldfields

The lure of gold and instant wealth brought people from all parts of the globe and all walks of life.  Doctors and merchants found themselves labouring alongside farmers and ex-convicts. Whatever their living conditions or status, residents of the goldfields sought to make the best of their situation and resorted to various means to do so.


Many took solace in alcohol, secreting bottles of rum, whisky or other spirits onto the diggings. As disappointment and frustration grew, their dependence became more ingrained. Those unable to afford or get access to spirits took refuge in a dubious concoction known as grog. Grog was often a combination of spirits and other substances. Sometimes it was 'hop beer', which was made at the goldfields. The alcohol content varied widely and drunkenness and violence were often the result.


For some, their religious faith formed a major part of their daily lives. Preachers and religious ministers were in increasing demand. Priests and ministers were called upon to deliver Sunday services, to solemnize weddings or christenings, or, in unfortunate circumstances, to deliver last rites or perform funeral services. For many people the presence of priests and religious leaders brought some semblance of civilized life in a harsh environment.


The diggers worked hard but there was time, at the end of the day and on Sundays for relaxation. At the Ballarat goldfields, a makeshift boxing saloon was created to accommodate weekly boxing matches. Grog tents, like a bar in a tent, were set up for drinking. At first hotels were not allowed on the diggings, but sly grog tents or shanties were disguised as coffee shops. They were often run by women and were especially popular on Saturday nights.  


Sly grogshop or legitimate hotel? Christian Diedrich gave his occupation as Publican on the birth register for Clara in 1865. Clara was born at Reid's Creek just outside of Beechworth.  At the time two of her siblings, Johanna aged 9 and Henry aged 5 were possibly students in this photograph of Reid's Creek School taken in1865.

Reid's Creek School, near Historic Beechworth, Victorian Gold Fields, History of Gold mining, Pioneering Families of Australia, children on the goldfields, did children go to school on the goldfields.  where there children on the goldfields.

Circa 1850

Reid's Creek, near Historic Beechworth, Gold mining history, pioneering familes.  Reids Creek, Reedy Creek, Victorian Goldfields, Golden Triangle

Reid's Creek - Beechworth to El Dorado Road April 2009