Pioneering Families of Australia


Women on the


Despite the men’s objections, the sisters opened a store in the front of their tent selling tea, coffee, sugar, candles, tobacco, jam, bottled fruit, cheese, dress materials and baby clothes. Margaret and her sister were very proud of their store which, unlike many others on the diggings, did not sell sly grog.


They were required to pay £40 ($80) a year for a storekeeper’s licence.  Martha continued to run the store until 1855, when competition forced her to close, by which time her husband was also able to support the family and attitudes towards middle class women in business were changing as Ballarat became more settled.  


Middle class women were expected to be wives and mothers - not business women!


The thrifty miner who possesses the treasure, not less common on Australian goldfields than in other places, of a cleanly managing wife, is enabled to surround himself with rural privileges.  A plot of garden ground, well fenced, grows not only vegetables but flowers, which a generation since were only to be found in conservatories ... the domestic miner is often seen surrounded by his children, hoeing up his potatoes or cauliflowers, or training the climbing rose which beautifies his rude but by no means despicable dwelling.

From the very beginning of the goldrushes, there had been women in the diggings, those that had accompanied their parents, and husbands.  These women worked side by side with the men, sharing the work and the hardships.  


There were also a few who had decided to try their own luck, although these women were few they had the decided advantange of not having to pay the license fee!


In general however, women in the first few years were scarce and as W. B. Withers, whose History of Ballarat, published by the Ballarat Star in 1870,  wrote:

".. in those first days of digging-life, when womanless crowds wrestled with the earth and the forest amid much weariness and solitude of heart, the arrival of a woman was the signal for a cry and a gathering. The shout 'there's a woman' emptied many a tent of bespoiled and hardy diggers, for the strange sight evoked instant memories of far-away homes; of mothers, wives and sweethearts, and all the sweet affections and courtesies they represented, and never with such eloquent emphasis as then."

LastOfEngland_FULL pioneering%20women

The discovery of gold in Australian and in particularly Victoria, resulted in an influx of many thousands of miners to the diggings during the 1850's and 1860's from all parts of the world.  Whilst the majority were single men, many did come as family groups, brothers such as the Diedrich's, and married couples such as the John and Margaret Molloy.  Despite the hardships facing women on the goldfields, their arrival helped contribute to the end of the disorganized, dirty tent town


Once the diggings became more established it was common for the men to send for their wives and families and the influence of these women and their children had a major stabilising effect on the general population as a whole. With the women establishing their homes, tending gardens to provide a better quality of food  for themselves and items that could be sold or bartered.



Women were often responsible for providing the luxuries of life, there is the story of one woman who ran a successful store on the Ballarat goldfields -  Martha Clendinning. Her husband, George, was a doctor who brought his wife to Victoria from England in 1852.


He travelled to the goldfields with his brother-in-law to look for gold, leaving Martha with her sister in Melbourne.  However, Martha and her sister decided to follow their husbands and walked the ninety-five miles to Ballarat.


They brought with them bedsteads, mattresses, blankets, chairs and cooking utensils on a bullock dray and planned to set up a store on the diggings.


This idea was met with ridicule from their husbands as it was not considered normal behaviour for respectable women of the time to operate businesses.


A city built on gold - Ballarat, 1874, less than 25 years after gold was first discovered.

Described by Thomas Browne, better known as Rolf Boldrewood, Gold Commissioner, as: