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A Series of Interesting Sketches and Scenes in California

Date: 1851-1855
Overall: 374 x 264 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00003297
Place Manufactured:United States

User Terms

    This article from Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion features three engravings. The top image depicts the bridge across the American River at Leslie's ferry, California. Along the bottom of the page is a view of Sacramento cemetery and miner of a prospecting tour carrying his equipment.

    Gleason's was a Boston based weekly magazine that was modelled on the London Illustrated News. It often published articles on the American gold rush that were supplemented with large appealing illustrations.
    SignificanceThis article is indicative of the 19th-century public interest in the America and Australian gold rushes. The images highlight the living and working conditions of life on the gold fields.
    HistoryDuring the 1840s and 50s illustrated weekly magazines became increasingly popular in Europe and America. They contained numerous illustrations and articles on politics, war, travel, exploration, fine arts, science and literature. The first edition of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion was published in 1851. This major American newspaper was modelled on the London Illustrated News and featured articles of interest to its American audiences, including stories from overseas. In 1855 it underwent a name change to Ballou's Pictorial after it was purchased by Maturin Ballou.

    The gold rush was a popular topic covered by newspapers in America, Australia and England. The public were eager to hear about the opportunities, adventure and conditions on the American and Australian gold fields, spurring on dreams of finding a fortune of their own.

    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: A Series of Interesting Sketches and Scenes in California

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