Wind & Sky Productions
Many Roads: Stories of the Chinese on the goldfields
In the 1850s tens of thousands of Chinese people flocked to Victoria, joining people from nations around the world who came here chasing the lure of gold.
Fleeing violence, famine and poverty in their homeland Chinese goldseekers sought fortune for their families in the place they called ‘New Gold Mountain’. Chinese gold miners were discriminated against and often shunned by Europeans. Despite this they carved out lives in this strange new land.
The Chinese took many roads to the goldfields. They left markers, gardens, wells and place names, some which still remain in the landscape today. After a punitive tax was laid on ships to Victoria carrying Chinese passengers, ship captains dropped their passengers off in far away ports, leaving Chinese voyagers to walk the long way hundreds of kilometres overland to the goldfields. After 1857 the sea port of Robe in South Australia became the most popular landing point. It’s estimated 17,000 Chinese, mostly men, predominantly from Southern China, walked to Victoria from Robe following over 400kms of tracks.
At the peak migration point of the late 1850s the Chinese made up one in five of the male population in fabled gold mining towns of Victoria such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Beechworth and Ararat. It was not just miners who took the perilous journey. Doctors, gardeners, artisans and business people voyaged here and contributed to Victoria’s economy, health and cultural life. As the nineteenth century wore on and successful miners and entrepreneurs returned home, the Chinese Victorian population dwindled. However some chose to settle here and Chinese culture, family life, ceremony and work ethic became a distinctive feature of many regional Victorian towns well into the twentieth century.
By the later twentieth century many of the Chinese relics, landscapes and legacy of the goldrush era were hidden or forgotten. Today we are beginning to unearth and celebrate the extent of the Chinese influence in the making of Victoria, which reaches farther back than many have realised.
Rural City of Wangaratta / State Library Victoria
The Last Stand of the Kelly Gang: Sites in Glenrowan
Ned Kelly, born in June 1855 at Beveridge, north-east of Melbourne, Northern Victoria, came to public attention as a bushranger in the late 1870s.
He was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol, November 11th, 1880. Kelly is perhaps Australia’s best known folk hero, not least of all because of the iconic armour donned by his gang in what became known as the Siege at Glenrowan (or The Last Stand), the event that led to Ned Kelly’s capture and subsequent execution.
The siege at Glenrowan on Monday, June 28th, 1880, was the result of a plan by the Kelly Gang to derail a Police Special Train carrying Indigenous trackers (the Gang's primary targets), into a deep gully adjacent to the railway line. The plan was put into effect on Saturday, June 26 with the murder [near Beechworth] of Aaron Sherritt, a police informant, the idea being to draw the Police Special Train through the township of Glenrowan, an area the local Kellys knew intimately. After the Glenrowan Affair, the Kelly Gang planned to ride on to Benalla, blow up the undermanned police station and rob some banks.
However, Ned miscalculated, thinking the train would come from Benalla not Melbourne. Instead of the 12 hours he thought it would take for a police contingent to be organized and sent on its way from Benalla, the train took 31 hours to reach Glenrowan. This resulted in a protracted and uncertain wait, leading to the long period of containment of more than 60 hostages in the Ann Jones Inn. It also resulted in a seriously sleep deprived Kelly Gang and allowed for the intervention of Thomas Curnow, a hostage who convinced Ned that he needed to take his sick wife home, enabling him to get away and warn the Police Special train of the danger.
Eventually, in the early morning darkness of Monday, June 28th, the Police Special train slowly pulled into Glenrowan Railway Station, and the police contingent on board disembarked. The siege of the Glenrowan Inn began, terminating with its destruction by fire in the mid afternoon, and the deaths of Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. Earlier, shortly after daylight on the 29th, Ned was captured about 100 metres north east of the Inn.
Glenrowan is situated on the Hume Freeway, 16 kms south of Wangaratta. The siege precinct and Siege Street have State and National Heritage listing. The town centre, bounded by Church, Gladstone, Byrne and Beaconsfield parade, including the Railway Reserve and Ann Jones’ Inn siege site, have State and National listing.
Making & Using Transport on the Goldfields
During the nineteenth century, horse-drawn vehicles were an essential part of life in rural Victoria.
In Ballarat, local coachbuilding firms assisted with the town’s growth in more ways than providing passage to the diggings. Horse-drawn vehicles were vital for the delivery of goods, responding to emergencies and often symbolised one’s social standing.
The Gold Rush ushered in a period of incredible growth for colonial Victoria. Ballarat’s escalating population and burgeoning industries highlighted the need for horse-drawn transport – not only for getting to the diggings, but also for delivering goods and building material, responding to emergencies and performing significant social rituals.
In the early nineteenth century, the goldfields were dominated by vehicles either imported from England or English-style vehicles built locally. Coaches, carriages and carts were typically constructed part-by-part, one at a time. As a result, each vehicle was highly unique.
By the mid-1850s, the American coachbuilding tradition had arrived on the goldfields. The American method, which had been developing since the 1840s, relied on mass-produced, ready-made components. In comparison to English designs, American coaches were known to be more reliable for goldfields travel; they were primed for long-distance journeys on rough terrain and were less likely to tip over.
As the nineteenth century progressed, a plethora of English, American and European vehicles populated Ballarat – both locally made and imported. The abundance of coaches, carriages and carts – and their value to the Ballarat community – can be seen in photographs and objects catalogued here on Victorian Collections.
State Library Victoria / Public Records Office Victoria
Ned Kelly, the most famous of our 'Wild Colonial Boys', was born in 1855.
He was raised in harsh poverty in Northern Victoria, and became an expert bushman; by his teens he had developed a reputation as a bushranger. Kelly and his 'gang' were proclaimed outlaws when they killed three policemen, accounts of which differ.
So began the prolonged hunt, which ended with Kelly's capture in Glenrowan, in iconic home-made armour made from plough parts. Ned Kelly was executed in 1880, hanged in the Melbourne Goal by order of Sir Redmond Barry. Barry was instrumental in the foundation of the State Library of Victoria where, perhaps ironically, Kelly's "manifesto", the Jerilderie letter and the armour are held.
Kelly's Irish heritage, his contempt for and success in humilating the authorities, his harsh and some say unfair treatment, his bad luck and his daring and notoriety have ensured Kelly's place as folk hero.
View videos and other Kelly artefacts from the State Library of Victoria Ergo site:
Capture of the Kelly Gang
Ned Kelly's Armour
The Life of Ellen Kelly, Ned Kelly's mother
The Jerilderie Letter
Ned Kelly's death mask