Victorian Gold Rush

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The discovery of gold in Victoria, Australia in 1851 led to the Victorian gold rush, and Melbourne, which served as the major port and provided most services for the region, experienced rapid growth. Within months, the city’s population had increased by nearly three-quarters, from 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants. Thereafter, growth was exponential and by 1865, Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as Australia’s most populous city.

gill-zealous-diggers-gmAn influx of interstate and overseas migrants, particularly Irish, German and Chinese, saw the development of slums including a temporary “tent city” established on the southern banks of the Yarra. Chinese migrants founded a Chinatown in 1851, which remains the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. In the aftermath of the Eureka Rebellion, mass public support for the plight of the miners in Melbourne resulted in major political changes to the colony. The various nationalities involved in the Eureka Stockade revolt and Burke and Wills expedition give some indication of migration flows in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Gold nugget discovered by Arthur Stewart near Bealiba, Victoria, in June 1957. Photo: Katie Green, National Museum of Australia.

Gold nugget discovered by Arthur Stewart near Bealiba, Victoria, in June 1957. Photo: Katie Green, National Museum of Australia.

The population growth and flow of gold into the city helped stimulate a program of grand civic building beginning with the design and construction of many of Melbourne’s surviving institutional buildings including Parliament House, the Treasury Building and Treasury Reserve, the Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria Barracks, the State Library, Supreme Court, University, General Post Office, Government House, Customs House the Melbourne Town Hall, St Paul’s, St Patrick’s cathedrals and several major markets including the surviving Queen Victoria Market. The city’s inner suburbs were planned, to be linked by boulevards and gardens. Melbourne had become a major finance centre, home to several banks, the Royal Mint to Australia’s first stock exchange in 1861. Grand private buildings were built in this era, including the Athenaeum Hall and several large hotels. The aboriginal population continued to decline with an estimated 80% total decrease by 1863, due primarily to introduced diseases, particularly smallpox, frontier violence and dispossession from their lands. Edited from Melbourne

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