Skip to content

The National Museum of Australia reopens on 2 June 2020. See Plan your visit for important visitor and safety information.

  • Open
  • Free general admission

Gold in the land of promise

The discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 had a massive impact on the way Britain imagined the colonies.

A hand-coloured lithographic playing board made of eight paper sections mounted on linen, with a polygonal twelve-sided teetotum or spinning dice and three small painted metal playing pieces in the shape of tall ships. A varnished wooden box and a instruction sheet have been placed beside the game board.
'Race to the Gold Diggings of Australia' game, National Museum of Australia

Gold shifted the perception of the colonies from a back-water to a land of promise. It captured popular imagination across class, gender and age.

'Race to the Gold Diggings of Australia' shows how interest in the gold rush was brought into the lives of middle class children through play.

It invites children to imagine the excitement and wealth promised by a journey to the far reaches of the British Empire.

Game of chance

Players leave Plymouth in England and sail past the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. They aim to be the first to arrive in Port Phillip in Victoria and find their fortune.

They must try to avoid landing on numbers which force them to miss a turn, or to be shipwrecked and forced out of the game.

The game comes in a painted wooden box with a sliding lid. It contains a folding hand-coloured lithographed sheet mounted on linen, measuring 490 x 330 mm.

The National Museum's game includes three of the original six painted metal ship counters and an ivory teetotum, numbered one to 12. Players spun the teetotum, kind of dice, to move around the board.

Board games as a window to the world

The history of board games extends to ancient times. They were usually played by adults until the late 18th century, when a market for moral and educational children's games arose in middle class England.

Many people left Britain to make the journey to Australia but others connected with the gold rush vicariously, through reading, looking at pictures and play.

Children were encouraged to learn about the world from the safety of their living rooms as adults learned about the lure of gold from newspaper articles, traveller's accounts and art.

'Race to the Gold Diggings of Australia' was made in London around 1855. It is an excellent example of the economic, social and cultural impacts that the discovery of gold in Australia had on Britain.


Return to Top