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Victorian gold rush

From Academic Kids

The Victorian gold rush was a period in the history of Victoria in Australia between approximately 1851 and the early 1860s.

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Background

By 1840 the village of Melbourne, in the far south of New South Wales, was nearly 5 years old. Population growth in Melbourne and the surrounding countryside had been steady but not spectacular, and the city had reached around 10,000 people. This does not include the original inhabitants who had been there for over 40,000 years.

In July 1851 the population of 29,000 celebrated as they broke away from New South Wales and the Colony of Victoria was born. Weeks later it was announced that gold had been found in Victoria. The first discoveries were by Louis Michel at Warrandyte, 30 kilometres north-east of Melbourne. These were soon surpassed by bigger discoveries at Ballarat and Bendigo, and more finds in a number of other locations around Victoria followed.

The population of Melbourne grew swiftly as the gold fever took hold:

year   population
 1835	0
 1840	10,000
 1851	29,000
 1854	123,000

The total number of people in Victoria also rose. By 1851 it was 75,000 people. Ten years later this rose to over 500,000.

First to be obtained was the 'easy' gold; that which was to be found on the surface, usually in creeks and rivers. The seekers used gold pans, puddling boxes and cradles to separate this alluvial gold from the dirt and water.

When this ran out undergound mining began. This was much harder and more dangerous than the panning and puddling. The mines ranged from single person, to teams and eventually large mining companies. The miners followed the underground reefs of gold. At Walhalla alone, Cohens Reef produced over 50 tonnes (1.6 million tr oz) of gold in 40 years of mining. As of February 2004, that would be worth $800 million.

Major and long lasting impact

It is difficult to underestimate the impact of the Gold Rush on Melbourne, on Victoria, and on Australia as a whole. It touched every aspect of society and elements of it still clearly visible today. The influx of wealth that gold brought soon made Victoria Australia's richest state by far, and Melbourne the nation's largest city. Although most goldfields were exhausted by the end of the 19th century, and although much of the profit was sent back to the United Kingdom, sufficient remained to fund substantial development of industry and infrastructure.

The Eureka Stockade, an armed protest/revolt over what the miners perceived as unfair policing and harsh taxation, is widely regarded as important in Victoria and Australia's democratic development.

It is reflected in the architecure of Victorian gold-boom cities like Melbourne, Castlemaine, Ballarat, Bendigo, Maldon and Beechworth. Ballarat has Sovereign Hill — a 60 acre (240,000 m²) recreation of a gold rush town — as well as the Gold Museum. The tiny town of Walhalla is at the other end of the spectrum, but certainly worth a visit.

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