Gold miners and mining

Find information about gold miners, mining companies and daily life in historic Victorian goldfields.

Daily life on the goldfields

Descriptions of daily life

Personal accounts


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.

The language of the goldfields

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.

How gold changed life in Victoria

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).

Gold prices

Excellent reports can be found in Bradshaws guide to Victoria, including prices, demand and quantities claimed

Images from the Library's collections

Lithograph, pen and watercolour caricature, the diggings. Male figure standing in water with his trousers rolled up, leaning on his shovel under the sun, while others around him sift through dirt and water.

The Diggins : poetically and pictorially portrayed, from the Log-Book of Lubin Landsman, late of Limehouse, London H93.338/9

Photograph, Gold mining scene - miners and families. Couple holding hands with little girl in white dress in sparse goldfields envinroment.

Gold mining scene - miners and families [Detail]  H36586

Lithograph, John Alloo's Chinese Restaurant, Main Road Ballaarat

John Alloo's Chinese Restaurant, Main Road Ballaarat H11862

Photograph, Golden Point. Forest Creek showing tents and rough wooden buildings

Golden Point. Forest Creek H84.167/33

Watercolour and pencil paintings, Depicts a family of gold diggers at work: the father digs with a pick, while the mother holds a baby and rocks the 'cradle' used to wash gold-bearing earth. Two older children assist with sluicing and digging.

Zealous gold diggers, Castlemaine 1852 H141536

Print, wood engraving, prospectors at Pegleg Gull, panning for gold or washing gold in a stream

Digging life twenty-five years ago A/S20/12/79/156-157

Miners' rights & licences

Gold Licence issued to William Pettard, Upper Lodden, March 1852.

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:

Miners' rights
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.

Watercolour, two miners beside their claim, pick lying next to the hole, one seated on bucket, the other standing. A uniformed man with a rifle is examining their miners' license.

S T Gill, The licence inspected, H86.7/7

State Library Victoria


The Library is closed from December 25 to January 3. From January 4 2021 we will be partially open to pre-booked and walk-up visitors and our Ask A Librarian service will resume for assistance with your research inquiries online and over the phone.