Sunday, January 2, 2011

Take up your pick, shovel and pan

Inspired by connections in the family tree to gold mining on three continents at both major and minor levels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I wondered what there is to be found on any women who discovered and mined gold in their own right, but there seem to be very few records in what was predominantly a male enterprise after all.
The most well-known gold rushes of the mid-19th Century were in California and Australia. Later rushes occurred in New Zealand and South America, Southern Africa, Canada, Alaska, and Russia, and it is inevitable that women went along for the ride. If not as long-suffering wives, daughters, or servants, most mining camps were beacons for prostitutes, and there must have been a number of enterprising women who indulged in cross-dressing in order to avoid detection. 
E. de Lacy Evans, 1879, State Library of Victoria
One of the more notorious of these was known as the "Sandhurst Impersonator", Mr/Mrs Edward de Lacy Evans, whose story caused a sensation in the press of the day. The best article on him/her appeared in a past issue of the La Trobe Journal and can be read online here.
As with most who-first-discovered-the-gold stories, they can abound with hysteria and myth, so one has to keep an open mind as to the real truth, but it now seems to be accepted that Margaret Kennedy and Julia Farrell, wives of workmen on the Ravenswood sheep run, found the first gold in Bendigo, Victoria, in 1851. It is said they were prospecting along Bendigo Creek when a newspaperman, Henry Frencham, spotted them with tins full of nuggets and reported the scene. See the history of gold in Bendigo.
Other than that shown below from the book "Water for Gold" by Dr Geoffrey Russell, there don't appear to be any images of these ladies who discovered the gold, although there is a delightful modern interpretation by Lucy Fekete and now owned by the Bendigo Historical Society, here on Flickr.

More on this topic in future posts.

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