You are in site section: Exhibitions

Gold and government

Gold and government

Explores places in which gold rushes transformed Australian society.

From 1851, payable gold was discovered first in New South Wales, then in Victoria and, over the following decades, in the other Australian colonies. People abandoned their jobs and rushed to the diggings, where they were soon joined by thousands of new immigrants.

Bustling towns appeared almost overnight, and governments struggled to maintain law and order. In these chaotic communities, people began imagining new forms of society, challenging the rule of the authorities and demanding a greater say in their governments.

Bendigo, Victoria

Colour drawing showing tents, huts and miners beside a small waterway. A man on a horse crosses a small bridge in the centre of the drawing.
Junction of Pegleg & Sailors Gully, Bendigo, 1853, by WL Walton.
National Library of Australia.

Bendigo Pottery water filter

One of those people was a young potter from Scotland. George Duncan Guthrie arrived from Scotland in 1857 and stumbled not upon gold but deposits of fine clay. Guthrie transformed his find into a business that, by the 1880s, grew to rival the great Staffordshire potteries of 19th century England.

James Lamsey was an immigrant from China who arrived in Australia in 1853 and settled in Bendigo in the 1870s. His success was built on his business as a herbalist, and he became a wealthy and respected leader of the Chinese community in Bendigo.

Bendigo Pottery water filter with a tap at the base
Bendigo Pottery water filter.
Photo: Lannon Harley.

audio_w15 Download 'The Chinese in Bendigo' curator's talk

Bendigo Pottery water filter

This water filter dates from about 1872. Water was often scarce in Bendigo and filters like this were popular. Muddy water was filtered through charcoal pieces or limestone shells to make it more drinkable.

George Duncan Guthrie's water filters, patented after 1886, often featured the Australian coat of arms, as does this one.

The Bendigo Pottery collection

Lachlan Valley, New South Wales

Emu Creek gold nuggets

Amelia Campbell's coffee urn

The Lachlan River rises near Gunning, in the New South Wales southern highlands, and travels west until it meets the Murrumbidgee River near Oxley, hundreds of kilometres away. Goldfields sprang up in the Lachlan River region at Lambing Flat in 1860, Forbes in 1861 and Emu Creek (Grenfell) in 1866.

Economic opportunity brought social turmoil. The Lachlan's stockmen and small landholders, already hostile to pastoralists and badly served by government, felt a growing sense of deprivation. Some became bushrangers, raiding properties, holding up shopkeepers and publicans, and stealing the gold and cash bumping its way along the isolated roads to Sydney.

In 1862 near Eugowra, Frank Gardiner and a group of eight or nine others held up the Lachlan 'gold escort', a coach bound from Forbes to Sydney. A total of £14,000 treasure was stolen. As a result of this heist, stronger bullion boxes were developed, to deter theft. One of these gold bullion boxes is on show in Landmarks.


Learn about the mystery of the gold bullion box

Lachlan Valley slideshow

pdf Download the gold bullion box object biography (PDF 99kb)

Remains of a stone structure in the centre of a green field, with hills in the background.
The Goimbla property site, near Eugowra in New South Wales.
Photo: Anne-Marie Condé.

The Goimbla raid

In the same Eugowra region, in 1863, bushrangers Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John O'Meally raided and besieged the Goimbla homestead.

The bushrangers set fire to the barn and stable, but in the many exchanges of gunfire between the bandits and the Campbell family, bushranger John O'Meally was killed.

At the time this was seen as a major victory for the community over the lawlessness perpetrated by bushrangers.


Amelia Campbell's coffee urn

A coffee urn presented to Amelia Campbell in gratitude for her courage in assisting her husband during the raid on Goimbla is on show in Landmarks.

Its inscription reads:

The ladies of Upper & Middle Adelong present this token of esteem to Mrs Campbell as an appreciation of her heroic conduct displayed during the attack at Goimbla by bushrangers on 19th Nov. 1863.
Ornate silver tea urn
Amelia Campbell's coffee urn.
Photo: National Museum of Australia.

Emu Creek gold nuggets

Landmarks also features a handwritten note, addressed to a 'Mrs Thornycroft', which was probably sent during the early gold rush at Grenfell, which was briefly called Emu Creek.

It included four small gold nuggets. Nothing is known of the sender, or the recipient. It is now part of the National Museum's collection.


View a larger image of the coffee urn

Collection database record

Irish bushrangers and beyond

'Race to the Gold Diggings' board game

pdf Facing Ben Hall (PDF 3066kb)
Friends magazine, Volume 20, No 3, September 2009