1849: the rush that never started: forgotten origins of the 1851 gold discoveries in Victoria
AuthorWilkie, Douglas Stuart
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsWilkie, D. S. (2014). 1849: the rush that never started: forgotten origins of the 1851 gold discoveries in Victoria. PhD thesis, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2014 Dr. Douglas Stuart Wilkie
Previous historiographical accounts have often given the impression that the Victorian gold discoveries of mid 1851 occurred in response to discoveries earlier in the year near Bathurst, west of Sydney. This thesis argues that the Victorian discoveries of 1851 were more directly connected to a largely forgotten gold discovery two years earlier in the Pyrenees Ranges of the Port Phillip District, and that current understanding of events of the 1849-1851 period has been distorted by a tendency to regard the period as unimportant; to discuss it superficially; or to impose anachronistic perceptions and motivations upon the actions of those who took part in the events of the time. The thesis argues that the 1849 discovery of gold influenced government decisions leading to the discoveries of 1851; that Charles La Trobe’s decision to discourage the exploitation of gold in 1849 was influenced by the presence of a large ex-convict population; and was indicative of his desire for social order and predictability. The thesis argues that La Trobe's attitude towards gold exploitation prior to 1851 originated in his desire to advance the interests of Port Phillip as an independent colony, and in particular, that his decision to discourage gold mining until after separation ensured the revenue would be expended solely for Victoria’s benefit, and was probably influenced by dissatisfaction with the long-standing inequitable distribution of Port Phillip revenue by the New South Wales government in Sydney. The thesis will also suggest that the actions of those accredited with the 1851 gold discoveries were influenced by the actions of those involved in 1849 Pyrenees discovery; and that natural environmental events — drought, flood and bush fires — played an influential role the discovery of gold both in 1849 and in 1851. The narrative that forms the central part the thesis provides a more nuanced picture of the social, political and environmental connections linking the old pastoral society of 1849 Port Phillip to the emerging minerals based economy of Victoria after 1851 than has previously existed, and explains the circumstances of the Victorian gold discoveries of 1851 in ways that challenge many long-standing traditional explanations.
KeywordsVictoran gold rush; gold; Charles Joseph La Trobe; Port Phillip District
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