Eugene von Guerard

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Eugene von Guerard, Old Ballarat as it was in the summer of 1853-54, 1884, oil on canvas, mounted on board, Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection, Gift of James Oddie on Eureka Day, 1885.




1853/1854 BALLARAT[1]

The writer of the diary from which the following pages are taken, was of French extraction, and was born in Vienna in 1811, his father being Court painter to Francis the first. Having studied art in the schools of Rome and Dusseldorf, he decided in 1852 to go to Australia, and try his luck there as a landscape painter. Before leaving London he was introduced to some members of a French company, then forming, who were preparing to go the new, although already well know, gold fields of Victoria. He was persuaded to join this company, and on payment of £50 as a first instalment towards expenses of passage, purchase of implements, provisions, etc, was enrolled as a member. The company consisted of fourteen men and one woman, (Catherine, “bonne” of one of the members) who was to act as manageress and housekeeper. The members were apportioned office as director of works, treasurer, foreman, master of commissariat, doctor, etc ---many of them were exiled, or fugitives from their own country. Among them were a lawyer, a merchant, a tax-collector, a conductor of orchestra, a gendarme, a doctor, and artist, a director of the Gas company at Lyons, etc etc. the greater number were well educated men but all were emigrating with the one object of becoming rich without much trouble. The fortnight between the time of joining the company and the day of departure, was filled with the necessary preparations, and the purchase of stores, pumps, borers, tents, etc etc. All members of the company being men without means, second class berths were taken in the 1000 ton emigrant sailing ship Windermere, for the very moderate sum of £20 per head, inclusive of bard, from the London docks to Melbourne, sailing on August 17th. Extracts from E. de G.’s follow.


Tea prepared at a good fire we had made of dead wood. The water, obtained from small waterholes in the rooky parts the creek, was thick and full of frogs; nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed the tea we made with it! Along the route the vegetation was of much interest--- Wattle, sheoak, honeysuckle, eucalyptus, etc, all quite new to me.

Jan. 18th

After travelling for a week, we have arrived at Ballarat. The journey has been interesting in many ways. The forests of immense gum-trees, the waterholes of which we camped at night, the unpleasant discovery of a scorpion as a bedfellow, the intolerable flies, etc. were all new experiences. We occasionally passed human habitations, and one day met a poor young fellow who had been attacked by bushrangers, robbed of his horse, and all the money he possessed, and then tied to a tree. When we saw him he was in a cart with a man and a woman, who had heard his cries, and rescued him. The poor fellow’s arms and legs were terribly swollen form the tight ropes with which he had been bound to the tree. Ballarat consists of a camp of tents, and some buildings constructed of boards. One building, made of the trunks of trees, constitutes the prison, and is often the temporary abode of bushrangers, and also of diggers who can’t --- or won’t ---- pay their licence.

Jan. 23rd

The last five days have been spent in seeing the gold-commissioner, Mr. Green, to ascertain the laws for diggers, and in obtaining our licences. And further to prepare our encampment. This necessitated the felling of trees, for the purpose of constructing a work-shop and store for our possessions, our tents being barely roomy enough for our personal shelter. The work, to which we were all new, was somewhat arduous at first, and caused much backache and blistering of hands. The evenings are a delight after the day’s work, being both novel and picturesque. From every direction weary diggers are to seen returning to their canvas homesteads, hundreds of fires are kindled and illuminate the scene, and at each tea is made and mutton roasted. The evening meal finished, the air is filled with the sound of firearms being fired, in order to be reloaded anew before the night. A Frenchman, named Fougery, Antoine Fauchery with his wife, and several others has arrived from California ---- they have rigged up their tent close to ours, and make a pleasant addition to our party. Have had the very painful experience of being bitten by one the gigantic black ants that are to be met with out here. The pain and swelling lasted several days. Received our licences, for with we pay 30/- per month. An encampment of police here, both mounted and on foot, have a quite military appearance.

Jan. 25th

Yesterday we went to peg out our claims at Eureka Hill. Our nearest neighbours are Chinamen, Englishmen, and Americans. We afterwards went on towards Gravelpit, and repeated our pegging out there. Two of our Company remained at each claim. Digging was begun in four-hourly shifts, to continue day and night. Armand and I made a start. At midnight we came on for a second shift by brilliant moonlight. It was a cold night, and one’s turn at the windlass, after being bathed in perspiration from digging, was not pleasant. We got a depth of twelve feet when we were again relieved.

Jan. 27th

Having dug to a depth of twenty four to twenty five feet both at Eureka and Gravelpit, we came upon rock in both places, our only gain being a practice at digging! Armand and I have been out reconnoitring, and after lengthy wanderings we came to the northern part of Ballarat flat, where many diggers have left their mines on account of floods. One Dr. M., who arrived here form Canton some time back, bringing a number of Chinamen with him, had the water pumped out of some pits and had considerable luck. We have decided to try this place, working at some the deserted shafts.

Jan. 30th Sunday

Had a good walk towards Brown Hill, and discovered large tent being used as R.C. Chapel. Went in and heard mass and sermon. On retuning to our camp, found great discussion going on as to the dissolving of our company, most of the members being in favour of it.

January 31st

The breaking up of our company definitely settled. Arrangements made for the division of effects and money, each of us receiving £4. Everyone seems depressed at this ending of the sanguine hopes with which the company was formed.

February 1st

Went to see a large nugget found at Canadian Gully, on view at the Gold Commissioner’s. It weighs 134Ib 11oz. The lucky diggers, after depositing it at the Commissioner’s Camp, sold all their belongings for £300 and left the district, not thinking it safe to remain there.

February 4th

We continued our labours for several days at the shaft north of Ballarat flat, but without success. We got to a depth of fifteen feet, having dug through eight different strata, in the following order – soil fit for cultivation, clay, a mixture of clay and gravel, a yellow soil mixed with gravel, a grey-looking soil with lumps of quartz, four feet of sandy quartz, again yellow soil with large lumps of quartz, a bluish-green greasy soil, and lastly pipeclay of astounding whiteness on which gold-dust was deposited. Of this however there didn’t seem to be enough to make it worth while to continue here; moreover we were strongly advised to give up this pit. Boncoeur and I went to Canadian Gully, to peg out a claim there. This place has a most lively appearance, endless tents, stores, flagstaffs with many-coloured flags, and great animation among the people.

Feb. 20th.

Have now got my own small tent. With some difficulty I found the necessary canvas in a store. The making a constructing the framework has taken more time and trouble than I had foreseen, but is quite successful. The sense of freedom this gives me is wonderful, and being able to go to bed without the usual accompaniment of strife is a blessed relief.

Feb. 21st.

To-day the auction of our two large tents, and such effects as none of us wanted, or were able to keep, took place. Written notices had been nailed to £trees for some days. Armand undertook the duty of Auctioneer, and the sale was well attended. We took over150, considerably more that the things had cost. The two tents alone fetched £29.10.

March 1st

News of rich ground at Little Bendigo caused a rush thither of hundreds of miners, Arndt, Lyaz, and I among the number. Within a very short time, a couple of thousand shafts were sunk. Five sixths of these proved to be valueless, ours unfortunately among the number. News of a highway robbery and murder, and mangled corpse found on the way to Buninyong, but no trace of the murderer.

March 10th.

Joined another rush to Jules Station (Yuille). Result nil. Had to buy new kettle and frying -pan, the two indispensables out here, paid 1?/-and not too good at that.

March 13th.

Have done a wonderful walk to Warrenheip Hill, through miles of forest. Saw many magpies, black cockatoos, parrots, etc. much relished the exquisite clear water of the Leigh Creek, the first I had tasted for a long time, such a thing being unobtainable at the diggings.

April 3rd.

Some days ago a large tent was put up close to mine by some very undesirable looking people. A man with a wife and daughter, and several young men, seem to share it. They possess carts and horses, and seem to be carrying on an illicit sale of spirits. The gambling at nigh invariably ends in loud quarrelling and fighting. Very unpleasant neighbours.

April 15th.

Yesterday a party of armed police raided the tent of my neighbours, and carried off a cartload of barrels, bottles, and jugs, as well as the two women. The men were all away at the time. To-day the whole lot have disappeared. Only in certain parts of the township public houses are allowed, and for these the licence is very heavy. Spirits, however, are sold illegally at most of the little stores, and this is often known and winked at by the police. We are subject to periodical unexpected requests to produce our diggers licences. As in every gully there is a number of men who have evaded taking out a licence, one is quite accustomed on these occasions to hear the signal passed along, giving warning of approaching police. The latter usually arrive to the number of twelve to sixteen men, armed with bayonets, and headed by a mounted officer. They pass from one shaft to another to examine these licences. On hearing of their approach many of the miners disappear rapidly into either mine, or into the bush, and so succeed in evading the law. Those who are not so nimble, and are caught, are roped together in pairs and taken prisoner. I have seen as many as thirty or forty at a time, taken off like this. They are then imprisoned with robbers and other criminals. This method is causing a good deal of bad blood.

April 18th.

I and the mate I have taken on, Bagot by name, have had some hard work putting planks into our shaft, as it showed signs of collapsing. It has paid, however. After B. had gone today I still worked on, I was surprised by a drunken Englishman of huge dimensions, who descended to where I was at work. I begged him to remove himself, which he refused to do, whereupon I climbed up out of the shaft, pulling the rope up after me, hoping to give him a wholesome lesson by keeping him prisoner down below for a time. To my astonishment he managed to climb up out of the shaft and approached me in a perfect fury, and most anxious to have a boxing match. I told him that he’d find my boxing done with a pistol, whereupon he moved off. I hear…… endless deserted claims, and hardly a soul to be seen, where only quite lately a busy crowd was at work. One or two tents are still there, and a few China men are examining the old shafts.

April 25th To our unspeakable disgust we discovered on going to work, a day or two ago, that our neighbouring diggers had worked through into our shaft, partly destroying our timbering, this naturally led to considerable unpleasantness, which however we ended as amicably as possible. In order to repair the damage as quickly as we could, we have taken on another mate, a Yorkshireman, George Griffiths by name. he has the commendable and rare distinction, out here, of being a teetotaller, and is moreover an experienced and good worker, though like ourselves he has, so far, not met with any luck.

May 7th

We have had a week of incessant rain. I had already taken some precautions against the coming winter, having put a hording round part of my tent, and also built a chimney of earth and beams, so as to avoid the discomfort of cooking in the rain. Everywhere chimneys of this kind are being built up. Rheumatism in my right arm is giving me much trouble. This is very usual out here, resulting from being exposed to wet and cold winds, after working oneself into a perspiration down in the mine.

May 23rd

Began the sinking of a new shaft in Prince Regent’s Gully, having dragged windlass, etc. etc., through drenching rain and mud two feet deep in places.

May 28th

Having dug to a depth of eighteen feet, we found, on arriving at our claim yesterday, that much damage had resulted from the heavy rain. We worked like slaves to get our shaft back to anything like a possible condition. Until 2a.m. we toiled at the making of a canvas awning to cover it, and so, at least partially to protect it from again being flooded. When finished we stretched this over a framework of wood, and then descended to try and empty the shaft of liquid mud. The nights are getting very cold, and I have lined my tent with some strong calico.

May 30th

Having sunk our shaft to a depth of another five feet, I am tunnelling in a southerly direction. Having washed the first bucket-full of paydirt, we found it produced half a pennyweight of gold, which gave us hope of some success.

May 31st

Griffiths, working westwards, has today had the good luck of coming upon a nice little pocket of gold, and I found a nugget weighing eleven pennyweight.

June 1st

Woke up to my first experience of an Australian snowstorm. Crossed the Creek to the C’s camp to renew our licence. Bought a pair of strong boots for 35/- - £6 is being paid for Wellingtons. On my return found G. in great spirits, having come upon more gold. Have taken on a new mate, who is glad to work for £3 a week.

June 7th

Hard frost last night. Had a lucky day, as in the space of one square foot I found a little pocket of nuggets, the weight of which amounted to 1¾ Ib, the largest weighing over 7½ oz. we heard that a nugget weighing 50Ib had been found quite close to our claim.

June 11th

Heavy rain again, and in spite of all our precautions a good deal of water has got into our shaft. This gave us a hard day’s work. No more nuggets, although the washings are still good. From fifteen buckets of pay-dirt we have got 4½ oz of gold.

June 13th

Walked to Black Hill at daybreak, in the hope of finding a letter from home, having heard one for me had been brought there from Geelong. To my great disappointment it was merely a note from a man I knew in G. Spent the evening with my mate, he reading aloud from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The evenings are often quite entertaining, when a number of us are gathered around a fire, and narrate our experiences. Saw Henri d’O[rleans] of our late French company today. He started out here with a considerable amount of luck, and recklessness. Now. He says for the last four months he has hardly found enough to keep body and soul together.

June 15th

Last night, after I had already been in bed for some time, my late eccentric mate Bagot, (with whom I had parted company) surprised me with a visit. He began by abusing me in an excited and crazy fashion, and wanted me to come out and fight. I told him I preferred to spend my night sleeping, but would meet him in the morning if he like, with which he went off. This morning I called to him as I passed his tent, and gave him what he wanted and deserved.

June 22nd

Have moved my tent to higher and drier ground, and am next to my mate Griffiths. Have a good floor of the bark of gum-trees. From this hill I get a pleasant view of various gullies, Ballarat Flat, Commission Camp and township, with Black Hill and Eureka Hill in the distance. The news of our little bit of good luck has got about in an absurdly exaggerated form, and we are receiving congratulations from all sides.

June 27th

As we advanced in our mine in our various directions, we became more and more aware of the proximity of other miners. This morning we broke through in two places. At one point we had dug rather beyond our boundary, at another place some friends of Griffiths’ had gone beyond theirs. After friendly subterranean greetings, we did our best to repair the damage. The break through caused a somewhat unpleasant draught.

July 7th

On arriving at our shaft this morning, we found that some one had been there during the night, and done a certain amount of work. What may have been found and taken away, it is of course impossible to tell. We had yesterday come upon a nice little pocket of nuggets.

July 8th

Griffiths’ friends and we today again broke through into each other’s claims at another point. The wave-like formation of the gold strata is most extraordinary. At the southerly end it slanted to such a degree, that the roof the neighbouring claim was almost on a level with our floor. We rather feel we have come to the end of things in our present claim, and Griffiths is evidently being drawn townwards, so we have decided to accept £20 for it from our neighbours. G. and I have worked together for forty-seven days. From about 560 buckets of pay-dirt we have obtained 10Ib of gold. This is more or less how our mine was worked: 1. Shaft. 2. & 3. Fair yield. 4.5.6. yielding nothing.

July 10th

On the days when the post carts arrive from Melbourne or Geelong, I always hasten to the post office in the hope of finding letters from home. Today I suffered a bitter disappointment. I certainly had a letter handed me, but not what I had hoped for, and was more disgusted than I can say to find that it was a notice form the General post office in London, dated 13th December 1852. It ran: There is a letter, No. 4145 at this office, directed to you, which cannot be forwarded until the postage of one shilling be paid, if therefore you will desire one of your correspondents to call at the Inland Department of this office, between the hours of ten and four o’clock, and pay the above postage, the letter will be immediately sent according to the address, or if you will return this notice to me distinctly stating to whom you with the letter to be delivered, such request will be complied with. W. L Maberly Secretary Your correspondent must be particularly instructed to enquire for the letter by its number 4145. That this notice should be sent to me at a distance of sixteen thousand miles, instead of postage being charged on delivery, seemed incredible.

July 14th

Today we washed the last of our stuff, so ending the sixty-one days at our last claim. During the night we had again been robbed of a considerable amount.

July 15th

This morning after breakfast, Griffiths departed for Melbourne with his dog Jo. I was sorry to say good-bye to the good fellow. I, myself, feel very undecided about continuing here, or going to Melbourne and seeing what luck I may have there with my painting.

July 18th

Today I have at last received letters from home, after waiting for an almost unendurable six months. I can see by their contents that former letters must have gone astray. I feel wonderfully cheered, and full of fresh hope and courage. I shall probably join Arndt, who is anxious to get away from his present mates, who are both terrible drunkards. A lending library has been started on one of the tents near by.

July 25th

Have just heard that news has reached Ballarat of the holding-up by bushrangers of the gold escort between Mac Ivor [Heathcote] diggings and Melbourne, the whole of the gold taken, and several of the escort left dead on the road. This has naturally caused much excitement.

August 1st

On returning from a little expedition today, I heard that Arndt has departed for Melbourne, with the intention of probably retuning to Europe. So much for our joining forces. To my surprise I have come upon Henri d’Orleans again. Instead of digger he is now shoemaker - or rather shoe seller, being of the opinion that it will be more paying than gold digging.

August 4th

This morning my mate James and I again shouldered our picks and spades to join a new rush to the neighbourhood of Black Swamp, there to peg out some claims. We found some seventy diggers there, at work, surface – digging at a depth of one and a half to two feet with very poor results.

August 14th

Have had a good walk with Guibert to the Bald Hills, which lie some eight or ten miles from Ballarat. We passed a great swamp with a quantity of wild fowl. We also came upon a large sheep station – green fields, fences, shepherd’s huts, and the squatter’s house with a pretty garden. At the shepherd’s hut we had some delicious milk and bread. We had our guns and got some snipe and a kind of quail. The hills, which we reached the foot of a little further on, are three or four hundred feet in height, and are most certainly of volcanic origin. The view from the top is grand. To the east Buninyong and Warrenheip Hill, to the north Mount Alexander, to the north-west the crest of the Pyrenees and Mount Cole, Lake Burrumbeet, Mount Etna, and part of the Grampians, etc. The forests through which we went are magnificent, the wattle in full bloom. I shot a snake, measuring at least six feet in length, a horrible-looking reptile, black and yellow spotted, commonly known as the tiger snake.

August 20th Am at the moment storekeeper for some of the men of my late French company. They begged me to undertake the job as Armand (their storekeeper) had to go to Geelong. I agreed, thinking I might as well add another to my various experiences. I find it quite amusing. Have brought all my belongings with me, leaving James to look after my tent. Before departing, Armand initiated me into all the working of the business. The store and my habitat are some twenty paces in length, and about half that in width. In front are displayed a vast variety of goods, such as butter, cheese, flour, candles, boots and other wearing apparel, shovels, picks, rope, etc, etc. in the back part – hidden – there is a small barrel of beer, spirits, and an assortment of French wines in bottles, and the necessary glasses with which to regale friends and old customers. These leave corresponding cadeaux on departing! On first hearing of this I demurred about following this illegal custom, but was assured that a number of members of the Commissioner’s camp were among the ‘friends’. Have come across several sailors from the Windermere, and hear that nearly all bolted to the diggings shortly after our arrival in Melbourne.

August 25th

A number of us met, and celebrated the anniversary of our departure from Europe with huge bonfires, and much firing of guns. All around, people not belonging to our party were of course ignorant of the reason of our festivity, and soon the false rumour was spread, that we were celebrating Governor La Trobe’s consent to all the diggers’ demands. The excitement far and near grew intense.

September 2nd

Griffiths and Arndt have both returned to the diggings, like so many others who go to Melbourne, intending to start some business there, or to return to Europe, and after a very short time find their way back here. A kind of ‘homesickness’ for this life seems to get into them. Last night I was awakened by the arrival of a figure, apparently clad in a thick coating of slimy clay. In a drunken condition the man had fallen into a disused shaft, and only got out of it with great difficulty. A good fire and tea found him restored at day break. One hears quite often of diggers disappearing suddenly, and long afterwards their corpses are found at the bottom of shafts into which they had fallen, and being drowned in the mud. Among my new neighbours are several Chinamen, who are thriving as butchers. They are frequent customers at my store, but can’t speak a word of any language but their own, so all our dealings are done by signs.

September 10th

Armand has returned, and I am not sorry to hand over my job of storekeeper. I am joining several French and English diggers in a claim at Gravelpit. At present the Leigh is so swollen, that crossing it to reach my tent is almost impossible. We shall have to sink a shaft to a depth of 140 feet, which means time and money.

September 18th

Been hard at work preparing for our new shaft, felling trees, sawing the trunks into lengths, and splitting these into planks, making piles, etc, etc. it is very difficult to tell which trees will split well and answer our purpose. Often after felling four or five in a day, we find that none will split into straight planks. It is strenuous work, but the fresh air of the forest gully compensates this this. We always make a fire for cooking our mid-day meal and making tea, where we are working, as we often have to wander far from our tents in search of suitable trees. The transport of planks on our backs is pretty difficult, the way often being over hills and through valleys.

September 20th

Another rush to a gully in line with Canadian, Prince Regent and Sailors, from which glowing accounts of the richness of the surface digging are reaching us. My old friend Fougery is said to have got several pounds of gold after a few days of digging to a depth of only a couple of feet. We have decided to ‘shepherd’ our mine at Gravelpit, which means that one is left there busy, to keep control of the mine, while the others can go off to another claim.

September 22nd

Several of our small company have gone to the new diggings, with tools and light tent, A. and I remaining on here to convey some hundreds of finished planks from the wood to our tents. We hear that some 1500 miners are hard at work at the new place, Golden Point.

September 28th

Armed with a blanket, a pickaxe, and teapot, I came to our new claim early this morning, G. taking my place at Gravelpit. Have been at work most of the day with but poor results.

September 30th

Back at Gravelpit. News of Dr N.’s success here decided us to return (his claim being in a direct line with ours), and work for all we were worth. We sold our claim at Golden Point for £3, divided the gold we had found there, packed our tents, put together our belongings, and wandered back through much mud.

October 2nd

Our little company of nine had a meeting today, at which we arrange a scheme of work. We are to work in three sections of three at a time, doing a six-hours’ shift, two hours underground, and four at the windlass. This will leave us time for resting, and progressing with the planks for the shaft, of which we need at least a thousand.

October 4th

My first shift was last night – after midnight. It was pitch dark, and crossing the creek along a big tree-trunk with a lantern and tools, was a matter of considerable difficulty. The high wind put out our lamp, and it took us a long time to find our way to the Gravelpit. The night was the coldest I have known in Australia. It was very warm in the mine, so one was all the more sensitive to the cold above, with continual rain, hail, and snow. This morning the awning over the windlass was frozen as hard as a board. At sunrise we were relieved, and not feeling inclined to go to bed before breakfasting we took a sharp walk as far as Eureka. On returning to Guillerot’s tent. We found some delicious hot coffee awaiting us. A mine has fallen in at Canadian Flat, three miners losing their lives. The Leigh has risen so high, that it is only with great difficulty that we can get to and fro from our tents to our mine. The tree-trunk by which we cross is about two feet under water. With my high boots and a pole I manage it more easily than some of the others. Today I had to bring back half a sheep, as we have no butcher on our side. I had it strapped on to my shoulders. Bellagier had had the bad luck to have good horses stolen, which had cost him £90. Horse-stealing is becoming worse and worse.

October 22nd

As Guibert, Forceaux and I were going to our mine last night, we saw a wonderful lunar rainbow. Today we have had some very fair sport, shooting a bandicoot, and a number of snipe, but unfortunately missing two fine wild turkeys, the best of all Australian game.

November 1st

After nearly a month of hard work, digging to a depth of 115 feet, we have decided that to continue would be a further waste of time and labour. We all feel considerably depressed, our only slight compensation being an offer of £40 for the shaft with its timbering, the windlass, rope, etc. there is also a decided inclination to break up our little company, as nearly everyone has a different idea about where next to try his luck.

November 5th

Had a day’s shooting with Guibert, but brought back only a good bag of snipe, though we saw a number of wild duck. We also saw an enormous swarm of white cockatoos, the wariest and noisiest of birds.

November 6th

Went with L. to get leeches from the swamp to put around his mate’s eye, which was terribly swollen. L. waded into the water barefoot, and soon began a vigorous dance among the reeds, his legs being covered with the disgusting things. We had much trouble in getting them into the bottle he brought for them. Coming back we met two mounted police with a hand-cuffed man, probably a bushranger.

November 12th

Heard today that the company who bought our claim, after digging a couple of feet deeper, came upon rock, and decided to abandon it, and dismantle it of all the timbering. They are said to be vehement in their curses over the French miner’s solid work. Guibert, Armand and I walked to Chinaman’s Gulley, and various gullies beyond Eureka. It is a sorry sight, with the endless deserted claims, and hardly a soul to be seen, where only quite lately a busy crowd was at work. One or two tents are still there, and a few Chinamen are examining the old shafts.

Nov. 27th.

Went to the consecration of the large tent which has been erected as a R. C. place of worship. There was such a crowd that it was almost impossible to get inside. Dr. Goold, R.C. Bishop of Melbourne, preached. Afterwards I walked to Canadian Gully, now pretty well the chief centre of the principle diggings. Found a great number of stores, eating houses, smithies, etc., had sprung up. Also, to my surprise, came upon Henri d’Orleans, who is now running a much decorated “Lemonade tent”. He is doing a grand business during this hot season by selling all sorts of cooling drinks, and excellent Havana cigars at 2d/- a piece.

December 1st.

Have been working at Sixty-feet Gully for the last few days, with some success. The heat is frightful. Also had the great joy, mixed with much anger, of receiving three letters from home. These letters had lain in the Melbourne Post office for six and half months, in spite of endless enquiries. My former mate, Bagot, looking more like the figure of a hunter in “Der Freischutz” than anything else, has reappeared. He offered to take me to a spot where he assured me I could make my fortune, and begged me to be his mate again. I told him that was out of the question, but went with him through the bush to the place he spoke of, and was amazed at the number of tents, windlasses, etc., in all directions.

Dec. 25th.

After three weeks of hard work, with but poor results, we today spent a very restful Xmas day, with much good fare. Catherine surpassed herself in preparing a repast in Guillerot’s tent which was quite excellent. Roti de veau, pommes-de-terre, gateaux, compote, crème, café, etc --- (by arrangement I have been having meals with G. for some time, saving myself trouble, and benefiting by Catherine’s good cooking.) Later I paid visits to the R.C. priest, who regaled me with some excellent Rhine wine; to the very amiable Architect, Lane, and to several others. Altogether a quite pleasant Xmas Day.

Dec. 27th.

This morning while preparing timber for our mine near Black hill Gully, I became aware of loud shrieks, and firing from the Eureka Line, and soon a cavalcade of some twenty mounted police, followed by thirty to thirty-five police on foot, and a vast number of diggers, hurried by in that direction. Later I saw the crowds in the distance being gradually dispersed by the police. It was, as I heard afterwards, a very bloody fight between neighbouring English and Irish diggers, leaving a numbers of wounded and some dead on the ground. Towards evening, after a day of intense heat, a south-west wind arose with much violence, and raised a duststorm, such as I have never seen before. For a time we were in absolute darkness, trees, tents, etc, were blown down, and some places were set on fire. Then heavy black clouds tore across the sky, and in a remarkable short time all was still, and the sky clear.

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

January 1st. 1854

Sold our gold this morning an paid off our extra mate. We have had much amusement over Catherine’s love affair. Noel, a sailor and former mate, has been courting her, much to Guillerot’s annoyance. There have been the most entertaining scenes between the three, poor C. frankly confessing that it was most distracting not knowing what to do. In the end G. has won, keeping his housekeeper, while Guibert is doing his best to comfort the inconsolable Noel.

Jan. 2nd.

The heat is intense, and bushfires very bad. All night a wide expanse of fire has been visible in the direction of Warrenheep Hill. The Leigh is entirely dried up, and only a couple of holes remain with tolerably bad water. The heat, the flies, and the smoke-laden atmosphere make existence almost intolerable.

Jan. 3rd.

Not far at the rear of G.’s tent the bush fire is raging. Many tents are being rapidly taken down, while some have already been caught by the flames. It is a grand, but terrifying spectacle, hundreds of trees with the flames rushing up their trunks, the foliage being consumed like fireworks, and the huge giants crashing to the ground on all sides, with a thundering noise, the sky red, with clouds of smoke flying upwards.

Jan. 4th.

The Guillerot menage is coming to an end. G., and Catherine with him, are preparing to return to France. For some time news has reached us here of the wonderful gold mines in Peru, and there has been quite an exodus to that part of the world, several of my old mates going to try their luck there.

Jan. 9th.

Going to Ballarat Flat today, I saw cricket being played for the first time out here. Heavy rains and thunder-storms have cooled the air, after a long spell of intense heat.

Jan. 17th.

Just a year since my arrival at Ballarat, and how changed it all is in that short time. Stretches of fine forest transformed into desolate-looking bare spaces, worked over and abandoned. In many part, where a year ago all was life and activity, there is now a scene of desolation. At the same time the population has enormously increased, and there is less and less chance of having a lucky find, as at every new place that shows any promise, swarms of diggers settled down like flies on a midden.

January 27th

After considerable heart-searchings, my mates and I have decided to stop work at our mine, the results being too poor to make our continuing there worth while. So today we went there for the last time, and brought away or excellent windlass, carrying it over the hill to our tent, in the heat. It is strange how one can have any feeling of sadness at saying good-bye to a spot where one has worked like a nigger with the poorest return, but so it is. Guibert and Armand have since had another try at the old Eureka claim, but without any satisfactory result. Luck has certainly not come our way. The latest achievement here is the publication of a daily paper, rather remarkable for a tent town.

January 29th

The bush fires appeared to be coming so rear our tents this morning that we packed up all our belongings, so as to be ready to escape at any moment. The entire French camp armed with long green branches set out to try and beat back the flames, and with the fortunate change of wind, were able to prevent their reaching any of the tents.

February 4th

Spent the day in the township, doing various little bits of business. Having my boots soled and heeled costs 22/-, Am having my small find of gold made into two rings.

Geelong February 25th

On Thursday, S -----I and I said good-bye to the diggings, and began our journey on foot to Geelong. We had found a card going there, to take our belongings, and after a good breakfast, and bidding farewell to our old friends, we set out, going by Fulton’s Flat, Canadian gully, and New Chum gully. The heat was very great, and the dust even worse. At Buninyong, a good many houses have sprung up.

Post 1854 Experiences

Eugene von Guerard, Vom publick haus zu Ballarat, 1854, pencil.
Courtesy Art Gallery of Ballarat, Gift of Mrs Martell, 1938.

See also

Further Reading

Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.


  1. Microfilm Mitchell Library, Transcribed by Christine Stancliffe

External links