What was life like in Victoria in the late 1800s?
Victoria was a very prosperous colony following the discovery of gold in 1854. Taxes collected from decades of gold mining meant that Melbourne was able to build many fine buildings, which still stand today. These include Parliament House, The (Old) Treasury Building, Law Courts, Melbourne Town Hall, the General Post Office and the Royal Exhibition Building, which was used to host the opening of the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia on 9 May 1901. Gold-mining towns, such as Bendigo, had also flourished as a result of Victoria’s gold rush. The rich grasslands around Portland had been settled by farmers and graziers; Echuca, along the Murray River, for example, became a thriving river port. In many ways, we can only imagine what the colony was like so long ago. However, there are photographs from which we can draw information, along with reports and stories in which writers of the time vividly conveyed details and impressions of people and places.
Explore the similarities and differences between life in Melbourne and life in other parts of Victoria in the late 1800s.
- As a class, look at the photographs of Melbourne and read the accounts of Melbourne, Bendigo, Echuca and Portland. Use a dictionary to find the meaning of any words you don’t know. You may want to view the film clip ‘Melbourne buildings’ at the Australian Screen website. You may also use the National Library of Australia’s Trove website to locate other photographs of Melbourne, Bendigo, Echuca and Portland in the late 1800s.
- Form small groups. Re-read the description of Melbourne. Discuss the following questions and record your answers.
- Why might George Augustus Sala have referred to Melbourne as being ‘marvellous’?
- In terms of town planning, how was Melbourne different to Sydney? What evidence is there to suggest the original town planners had foresight and were forward-thinkers?
- What types of occupations existed in Melbourne in the late 1880s?
- What might you see, hear, feel and smell if you were living in Melbourne in the late 1800s? Record your responses on an X-chart.
- How do your answers help you to build up a picture about the way of life in Melbourne at the time?
- In your groups, re-read the descriptions of Bendigo, Echuca and Portland. Discuss the following questions and record your answers. Although the accounts were written in the 1890s, they refer to earlier times in the towns’ histories.
- What information about each town’s past can you identify?
- What types of occupations existed in Bendigo, Echuca and Portland in the late 1800s?
- What might you see, hear, feel and smell if you were living in Bendigo, Echuca and Portland in the late 1800s? Use an X-chart to record your responses.
- How are the three towns unique? What do they have in common?
- How do your answers help you to build up a picture about the way of life outside Melbourne at the time?
- Use your responses to create a Venn diagram to identify the similarities and differences between the lives of people in Melbourne and the lives of people in other parts of Victoria in the late 1800s.
- What are the differences? What are the similarities?
- Would they have had the same kinds of hopes?
- How would their opportunities have been different?