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The Californian Gold District

Date: 24 January 1852
Overall: 400 x 276 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00005964
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This newspaper engraving depicts a gold mining scene at Kanaha Bar, on a tributary of the Sacramento River - where gold was first found. It shows a company of miners at work in the river bed which has been dammed and channelled into a wooden aqueduct on the rocks at the side of the river.

    The accompaning text explains:

    It has been sketched by Mr. John Borthwick, a clever water-colour painter, who first visited the locality as a goldseeker, but is now settled in the neighbourhood... taking portraits of successful adventurers. It will be seen that, besides presenting us with a picture, our ingenious Correspondent has sketched with equal minuteness the industrial economy of this extraordinary scene.
    SignificanceThis engraving offers an insight into life on the Californian gold diggings during the 1850s. The clipping is indicative of the public interest and excitement in America and Australia that resulted from the gold rushes.
    HistoryIllustrated weekly magazines became increasingly popular in Europe and America during the mid 19th century. They used large eye catching illustrations to accompany articles on politics, war, travel, exploration, fine arts, science and literature. The coverage of the Gold rush was a popular story in America, Australia and England as many people were keen to discover their fortune on the gold fields too. The Illustrated London News was a leading weekly pictorial in England and the wider world during the 19th century. It was established in 1842 to cover news and current affairs of national and international interest.

    The reality was that the living and working conditions on the gold diggings were harsh. The landscape was quite barren with the trees being cut down for firewood, huts and mine shafts. The weather could be extreme - cold, wet and muddy in winter; hot, dry and dusty in summer. Sanitation was also a problem for the large number of people living and working together. Washing for gold added to the fouling of streams and rivers while holes in the ground held sewage and refuse. Infections and diseases spread readily under these conditions with influenza and pneumonia being common causes of death for miners of all ages and genders. Many children suffered from scarlet fever and diphtheria. If they did not die from the disease they were killed by the 'cures' - many of which were poisons.

    Tens of thousands of miners criss-crossed the Pacific Ocean between Australia and America. A $20 one-way ticket bought the traveller a bunk and space for one trunk, the trip between Sydney and San Francisco taking about six weeks. In 1852, naval architect and shipwright Donald McKay designed the clipper ship SOVEREIGN OF THE SEA specifically for the Australian trade. It was capable of withstanding the roaring 40s and considerably shortened the trip.

    The gold rush that followed discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 tripled the population in just 10 years. Just four months after the first gold was found near Bathurst, more than 1,000 prospectors had swarmed to the site. In the next year alone 370,000 migrants from America, Europe and China arrived in Australia. Business in goldfield towns was thriving, the manufacture of local produce increased, as did rate of international imports and exports. This increase in population not only impacted on the economy, but also had lasting effects on the development of the Australian colonies and national psyche.

    As in California, only a small number of miners made a real fortune in the Australian gold rush. It was easier and more common to gain wealth by establishing businesses and trade related to the diggings. Many unsuccessful miners turning to grazing cattle, fruit plots or stores selling over-priced goods, supplies and services.

    Additional Titles


    Web title: The Californian Gold District

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