Find information about gold miners, mining companies and daily life in historic Victorian goldfields.
The photographs of Antoine Fauchery, Richard Daintree and Benjamin Batchelder, and the drawings of S T Gill, Eugene von Guerard, Thomas Ham, Charles Lyall and Charles Georges Paul Millin de Grandmaison bring goldfields experiences and scenery to life. Many of these images are in the State Library of Victoria's Pictures Collection, and can be viewed online on our catalogue. The State Library of New South Wales is digitising the Holtermann Collection which includes rare photographs of Victorian goldfields in the 1870s.
Historic local newspapers such as the Argus and the Bendigo Advertiser (both available online) reported floridly upon the social upheaval, crime, political unrest and riches of the period. The advertisements, too, can be picked over for small but valuable nuggets. A gazetteer of newspapers from the central Victorian goldfields (1851-1901) (PDF, 567 kB) is available online. Many of the newspapers that it lists are in the Library's collection.
Do you keep striking 'mundic' (fool's gold) and 'duffers' (unproductive mine shafts) when you're hoping to 'raise the colour' (find a promising trace of gold in your mine)? Gold fields words are explained in the book Gold! Gold! Gold! The language of the nineteenth-century Australian gold rushes.
The discovery of gold in Victoria was an important economic, environmental and social event in the history of the colony. Over time the gold industry would contribute more than £354,000,000 to the economy, and was probably the greatest contributor to the industrial progress of the colony.
Socially the impact was enormous. The Victorian population in 1851 was estimated at 77,345. The first year after the gold discovery there were 94,644 new immigrants. In the following three years the population increased fourfold (for more information see entry titled 'Gold' in the Australian encyclopedia).
Excellent reports can be found in Bradshaws guide to Victoria, including prices, demand and quantities claimed
Gold licence, 1852, MS 8203
Accessing miners' rights and licences
Most miners' rights and licences have not survived to the present day. There is no central index to surviving miners' rights or licences. A small number of rights and licences are held by the Library, local historical societies, museums and individuals.
Miners in Victoria in the 1850s were required to pay a licence fee to the government for the right to dig for gold. Miner's licences were first issued on 1 September 1851 and cost 30 shillings a month (later reduced to £1 a month or £8 a year). The licence fees were supposed to cover the cost of maintaining the police force on the goldfields. However the fees collected were inadequate for this purpose. This led to increased licence charges.
Protests by miners
The cost of the licence fee and the methods used by police to collect it were very unpopular among the miners. Protests occurred across the fields culminating in the rebellion at Eureka in December 1854. You can read more about the rebellion online:
After Eureka a series of reforms saw the licence fee abolished and replaced with a miner's right issued at an annual fee of 5 shillings. This gave the holder the right to dig for gold and importantly the right to vote.
S T Gill, The licence inspected, H86.7/7
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