Harsh Times on the Goldfields

Life in the 1850’s in Hobart Town was not easy. Like my great grandfather it is  likely that this family were drawn to the Victorian goldfields, from Hobart, lured by the prospect of finding gold and making a fortune.

Disease was rife upon the goldfields, where poor sanitation meant that refuse and excrement were liable to end up in the rivers that supplied drinking water for those on the diggings. Dysentery, typhus and other contagious diseases were all represented. The monotonous diet of mutton and damper did not help the health of diggers, and it is probable that many people, especially during the first years of a rush, were deficient in essential nutrients and vitamins. Common colds could be lethal; because of the combination of lack of sanitation and poor diet, miners lacked the necessary antibodies to fight off disease. With a weak immune system, a cold could quickly develop into pneumonia.

Within a week something of plague proportions wiped out Elizabeth Smart and her children. It is hard to imagine how Elizabeth Smart’s husband managed the grief of the loss of  his wife and children within such a short time . The experience of life on the goldfields was different for all who arrived, but few, as this tombstone reveals, had it easy. This husband and father had it tough.

Sacred To The Memory Of
Elizabeth Smart
Native of Hobart Town
Who Died July 5th 1864
Aged 26 Years
Also
Salena Smart
Who Died July 5th 1864
Aged 5 Years
Also
Henry Smart
Who Died July 8th 1864
Aged 5 Years
Also
Elizabeth Smart
Who Died July 10th 1864
Aged 14 Days

Weep not for me my husband dear 
I am not dead but sleeping here
Weep not for me but pity take
And love my children for my sake

Unknown Goldfields Miners Grave

‘Since Saturday morning, the scene (on the goldfields) has greatly changed – then a tent would be seen here and there, but now they are becoming inconveniently crowded … On Saturday, dozens were arriving at a time; on Sunday, hundreds; Monday and Tuesday, one continuous line of new arrivals.’
Argus, 8 November 1851

 

KALIMNA PARK is a bushland reserve on the north eastern outskirts of Castlemaine comprising 175 ha. During the gold rush the area was almost totally denuded and the ground turned over. In time, coppice regrowth has produced a box-ironbark woodland with a characteristic ecosystem of plants, birds and less visible wildlife.

Gold miners often led an itinerant life, following rushes from lead to lead, so tracking their movements can be difficult. In a remote part of this reserve lies the grave of the unknown miner dating back to the gold rush (circa 1850s). I certainly needed my local guide to find this grave, tucked in a remote corner of the park. It is hard to imagine what life was like for this miner seeking gold in what was a remote part at this time. If this hapless miner made his fortune it didn’t bring him any glory! More sadly the gold rush proved to be a second wave of dispossession for the Dja Dja Warrung people. Already marginalised by the first white settlement, the discovery of gold destroyed vast tracts of land and much of their traditional way of life.

The destruction of their environment and subsequently their traditional lifestyle was a major cause of grief for the Aboriginal people. Traditional food sources such as berries and plants, as well as the native animals they depended upon for meat were all destroyed as the Europeans cleared land and stripped huge areas of timber for their own needs.