Gold Fever Grief
I like the diggings very well I have washed myself about a pennyweight [2 grams] of gold besides a match box full of specimens [gold in quartz]. The other day I went with Mamma and Papa over to the quarry reef. There we saw a gentleman of the name of B Farrell he has one of the richest claimes in the reef He has made thousands of pounds […] You will laugh when I tell you what I have been doing today, making a kennel for a puppy I have not yet got it is a very nice one made of latice. Mr Sundy is going to give me the puppy this week We began school today.
– Lucy Birchall
In 1852, on a barren piece of land that was of no use to gold miners or fossickers, a cemetery for the deceased children of the Castlemaine goldfields was set aside. Located within the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park is Pennyweight Flat Children’s Cemetery. A pennyweight is a very small measure of gold.
Surrounded by grey box gums in a tranquil setting, the Children’s Cemetery tells a silent story about some realities of the goldfields during the 1850s. Many families travelled to the Castlemaine diggings in the early 1850s as word spread about alluvial (surface) gold to be found. Babies and young children were particularly vulnerable to disease and harsh conditions such as a serious lack of clean drinking water, and many died.
The children stir from their slumber! We come here often! I am confident that those children who lie here are happy to have some dogs come to visit them!
“During 1852, as the Victorian gold rushes began, children started dying from typhoid and dysentery after drinking tainted creek water during their first goldfields summer. So a cemetery was established on a rocky hill overlooking the area. They were buried on what must have been a sad and exposed hilltop below which locust swarms of new arrivals jostled, blinded to the truth on the hill above them.
In that gold hunting clamour parents would have sat beside those tiny graves mourning a child and wondering whether their decision to come out to this dusty outpost was wise. They, being poor, had placed their children in shallow graves, then piled rocks up to mark the place. Now, one hundred and fifty years later the scene is different and very quiet. The gravestones are scattered and most of the graves are hard to discern, mere mounds, barely visible under the leaf litter. Just a few weathered headstones, fallen or falling suggest the place is a cemetery.
In the eighteenth century Thomas Grey, the English poet, wrote his famous Elegy. Written in a Country Church-yard, a meditation on the life and death of poor people whose graves are forgotten over time. It is also a reminder that death gets everyone and that although the rich may have grander tombs we’re all equal in the end. ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave,’ he says.
The Pennyweight Flat Children’s cemetery, in a corner of Castlemaine, is plain, very Australian, hard to discern, at risk of vanishing, and valuable. Like most things that ask for quiet and patience, it rewards. (Source: Inside a Dog).”
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