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Alarming Prospect - The Single Ladies off to the Diggings

Date: 1854
Dimensions:
Overall: 286 x 354 mm
Medium: Etching on paper, paint
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Art
Object Name: Etching
Object No: 00000973
Place Manufactured:London

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    Description
    This hand coloured etching depicts a large group of single women from England on board a vessel as it prepares to leave for the Australian goldfields. The early gold rush was dominated by male emigrants but gradually more women began to travel to Australia to take advantage of the opportunities. A group of women and men are waiting on a dock, while two women descend a ladder into a crowded ship of women in bonnets. This etching presents a satirical view of the role of women in the gold rush.
    SignificanceThis etching represents the involvement of single independent women in the Australian gold rush and the subsequent challenges to social conventions of the time. It highlights the negative view towards women involved in a traditionally male-dominated environment.
    HistoryDuring the 1850s and 1860s the discovery of gold in California and Australia instigated the migration and movement of many people. Tens of thousands of miners criss-crossed the Pacific Ocean between Australia and America. Women were also keen to be involved in the discovery of gold and a great number participated in the diggings, either accompanying their husbands or seeking fortune on their own.

    Women were still outnumbered by men on the diggings by as many as 10 to 1. Conditions in the camps were hard and sometimes women had their hands on both a baby's cradle and a gold cradle. Often they would cook, clean the hut, raise a family, take outside work such as baking or sewing and help on the diggings. Women were usually given the responsibility of watching over the gold as it was believed bushrangers would not rob from them.

    Death rates for women giving birth were high. The first hospital in Ballarat opened in 1855, but assistance for childbirth was completely banned in preference to treating male miners. Women delivered their babies in tents assisted by friends and neighbours.

    This cartoon offers a commentary on the social upheaval of the period and the potential of emigration for women to gain better prospects and greater independence. It shows offers of marriage and economic security by would-be suitors, but they are ignored. One suitor is snubbed with the caption 'Bother yer Hundred Pounds and House in the Public line! A likely Start indeed!', while another replies 'A Cottage! Fiddle-dedee - Sir!'. A woman on the boat looks up to a man on the dock and comments 'A Twopenny Ha'Penny Fellow!'.

    John Leech was well known as a 19th century illustrator and caricaturist.

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