The Victorian Gold Rushes 1851 and Immigration Australia

While looking at records from the Pioneer Index for Victoria which covers the period 1838-1888 I noticed that a huge number of records related to gold rush towns and settlements. Their names reflect their gold prospecting origins as well as the different nationalities of immigrants. So many places were gullies, leads, creeks, flats, diggings and they were all far from Melbourne.

Some interesting place names are Yankee Creek, Deep Lead, Italian Gully, Jobs Gully, Scotchman’s Lead, Welshman’s Reef, Frenchman’s Creek, Eldorado, Digger’s Rest and Chinaman’s Flat.

Gold Rush Vic Narrena Fossickers Ballarat
Gold Rush Vic Narrena Fossickers Ballarat

While investigating the impact of gold I came across this interesting article on a great site which answered some of my questions. I have included parts of it below.

Immigration and Ethnicity: Overview – Theme – Electronic Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia

 

“Immigration and Ethnicity: Overview

When we talk about the Victorian gold rushes, that occurred from 1851 onwards, we are really talking about people, specifically the movement of people. During the gold rushes, people moved on a small scale: trying their luck at different locations on the diggings, or shifting from one town to another. Many people moved from the city of Melbourne into the centre of the colony, leaving certain industries and businesses desperate for workers. There was movement between colonies too, for example hundreds of workers abandoned the copper mines in South Australia and switched to gold seeking in Victoria. Many folk in Melbourne were appalled to see Vandemonians streaming into Victoria from Tasmania to look for gold, fearing increased crime and social unrest.

But perhaps the most significant population movement was the migration of thousands of people from overseas countries to the Victorian goldfields. The influx led to dramatic changes in Victoria’s population, and more importantly, to its society and culture. This group of people is described as the ‘gold generation’, a generation that left a profound and lasting impact on the colony and on the Australian nation.

Population growth

The population of Victoria rapidly tripled as a result of the gold rushes, growing from 77,000 in 1851 to 237,000 in 1854. During 1852, the peak year of the rushes, 90,000 people arrived in Melbourne. Victoria had a population of 411,000 by 1857.

Intra-colonial migration was the source of some of this population growth but it is difficult to measure how many people overlanded from other colonies to the Victorian diggings. Shipping records tell us that 14,000 people from New South Wales, 19,000 from Tasmania, and 15,000 from South Australia and Western Australia arrived in Victoria in 1852 alone. Those who were thought of as the Melbourne ‘establishment’ from the pre-gold days were particularly concerned about the number of ex-convicts migrating from Tasmania. Their protestations led to the Convict Prevention Bill of 1852, although this had little effect on the influx of ‘poor types’ from Van Diemen’s Land……….

Sources of immigrants

During the gold rushes, the majority of the international arrivals were from Britain. Between 1851 and 1860, an estimated 300,000 people came to Australian colonies from England and Wales, with another 100,000 from Scotland and 84,000 from Ireland. Gold seekers from Germany, Italy and North America also made the journey to Australia in search of gold. Just over 5,000 people from New Zealand and other South Pacific nations, and at least 42,000 people from China, also arrived in Australia during the 1850s gold rushes. During this period, the colony of Victoria received 60% of all immigrants to Australia…………

‘Push and pull’

We can conceive of the movement of people in different ways. With international migration, it is common to hear talk of ‘push and pull’. The decision to leave one’s country for another is a significant step – this decision is prompted by ‘push’ factors in the home country, as well as ‘pull’ factors in the host country. The discovery of gold in Victoria certainly represented an irresistibly strong pull factor for many people, but there were also a number of push factors that cannot be ignored. In Britain in the nineteenth century, for example, emigration was seen by many as a solution to growing problems of poverty, overcrowding, and unemployment. Industrialisation was at the root of many push factors in Britain and Europe, as was famine – potato crops failed in the 1840s, not only in Ireland, but also in Germany and Cornwall………..

personal correspondence and newspapers played a major role in maintaining communication between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ countries.

The enthusiastic letters home from migrants – particularly in the first years of the gold rushes – had a profound effect on patterns of human movement to Victoria’s gold diggings. Personal correspondence functioned as an information-exchange, and was often a major factor in people’s decision to migrate. One letter sent by a Scottish migrant home to Inverness resulted in 120 people leaving for Victoria within a week. Family correspondence was not so personal in the nineteenth century – letters were shared amongst family members and then amongst other people in the town or village. Commonly, letters were also published in newspapers, communicating their messages to a huge audience. These published letters, along with press reportage from Victoria’s goldfields and the advertisements of shipping agents, were a significant factor in unassisted migration to Victoria during the gold rushes. The communication processes between Victoria and other countries through correspondence and newspapers help to explain how migrants gathered the information upon which they based their decision to move to another country – which perhaps did not seem as far away or alien as we might imagine.”

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