The Lost World Of Joseph Banks

The Lost World Of Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks, naturalist, explorer, collector, patron and President of the Royal Society for more than 40 years was one of Australia’s founding fathers.  As a young botanist, he accompanied Captain Cook on his circumnavigation and voyage of discovery to The South Seas, and yet a true picture of Banks’s life has never emerged.

Early Life

Joseph Banks was born in London in 1743. His youth was spent on “Revesby,” the Banks’ family estate in Lincolnshire, England. Banks inherited the estate from his father, who died when Banks was 16 years old. Banks was to oversee the management of the 10,000-acre estate for the rest of his life.

Eton, Oxford & Cambridge

Banks was sent to the traditional finishing schools of the aristocracy and the English upper class. Bored with lessons at Oxford, Banks hired a tutor from Cambridge to assist in his self-taught study of Botany. At the end of his life, he bestowed some of his massive collection to Christ Church, his Oxford College.


The Swedish Connection: Linnaeus, His Apostles & Daniel Solander

joseph-banks-1773-reynolds-by-joshua-reynoldsBanks’ life and achievements are closely linked to the work and discoveries of Swedish Botanist, Carl Linnaeus.

Linnaeus was responsible for a plant naming system still in use today, a vastly devastating impact that has only recently begun to be seriously critiqued by scholars and thinker around the world. He worked as a Professor in the Medical Department of Uppsala University, and it was initially for medical purposes that Linnaeus cultivated his garden there. Even today, the garden is laid out to the same specifications.

Linnaeus’ disciples or apostles, as his followers were known then, were dispatched around the world to collect plants. Linnaeus’ favourite disciple was Daniel Solander, whom Linnaeus had sent to England to learn more about English horticultural methods.

Solander met Banks at the British Museum, where Solander was curating the works of Sir Hans Sloane: the Chelsea Physic Gardens and a massive collection of plants, which Sloane had left to the Nation when he died in 1739.

The sociable and well-liked Solander never returned to his native Sweden, much to the disappointment of Linnaeus.

The ‘Endeavour’ Journey

Banks paid an equivalent of ten million dollars to secure passage with his entourage on “Endeavour,” a ship commanded by Captain James Cook. Banks’ team included Solander, artists, Sydney Parkinson and James Buchan – a draftsman, James Sporing, plus three servants and his two greyhound dogs.

The Journey Begins

The object of the voyage was to track the “Transit of Venus” in Tahiti, and thereafter, to head further west to explore and chart what was thought to be a great southern land.

However, only Banks, Solander, and one of the servants survived the journey, which lasted more than three years.

Death In Chile

After crossing the Atlantic, Banks and Solander went botanizing, when the boat anchored in Rio de Janeiro. Thereafter, they headed south to Cape Horn and at Tierra del Fuego, they landed at a site that Cook named the “Cape of Good Success.”

But when caught in a freak snowstorm, the expedition proved to be disastrous, taking the lives of Banks’ two servants.

Soon thereafter, Banks’ draftsman, Robert Buchan had an epileptic fit and died at sea. No other deaths among the crew were recorded for more than a year until the “Endeavour” landed on the shores of the East coast of Australia.


Tahitian Landscape

Tahitian Landscape

Banks and Solander noted more than a hundred new plant species native to Tahiti, including the Gardenia, the national flower of Tahiti, and the Breadfruit Tree, which was to obsess Banks for the next thirty years, culminating in the ill-fated Bounty expedition.

Banks’ botanic artist, Sydney Parkinson, sketched some of the first images of the natives and their way of life, another job that he inherited after the death of Banks’ artist, James Buchan.

Cook relied on Banks as the mediator with the natives. Banks led the trading efforts, bartering the “Endeavour’s” collection of iron nails and axes in exchange for much-needed supplies, such as coconuts and hogs.

Many of the crew, including the adventurous Banks, had sexual relations with the Tahitians, a fact that troubled Cook.

On leaving Tahiti, after a stay of three months, Banks persuaded Cook to bring onboard a Tahitian Chief and skilled navigator, Tupai, who was instrumental in guiding the “Endeavour” on its westward journey across the Pacific.

New Zealand

New Zealand was one of the last lands to be colonized. The Polynesian Maori arrived there after migrating across the Pacific in the 15th century. There they hunted to extinction the giant flightless bird known as the Moa, a Jurassic creature only found on the island.

Banks and Solander collected more than three hundred plant species, including many unique, giant tree ferns, and the flax plant, another species that obsessed Banks, given its suitability for rope making and sailing cloth.

Unlike the Tahitians, the fierce and warlike Maori provided an intimidating welcome to the Europeans. Despite the presence of Tupai, who understood the Maori language, there were frequent misunderstandings between the crew and the Haka, who interpreted them as invaders and therefore, a threat. On the first landfall at the site of modern-day Gisborne, on the east coast of the North Island, several Maori were shot and killed by Cook and his crew. Cook later renamed the site, “Poverty Bay.”

Cook spent six months circumnavigating the islands and producing a map that is still used today. Intrigued by the customs and cannibalism of the Maori as noted in his diary, Banks collected samples of the Maoris’ weapons and their intricate woodcarvings.


Australian Wattle

Australian Wattle

The “Endeavour” made landfall on the eastern coast of Australia on April 28th, 1770, at a place Cook named Botany Bay, located just a few miles south of modern-day Sydney.

Banks and Solander’s plant hunting on the undiscovered eastern seaboard of Australia produced the most significant part of their collection gathered during the three-year expedition.

Less successful, however, were their encounters with the indigenous Aborigines, who were either disinterested or hostile to the visitors for whom they regarded as invaders.

On April 28, at Botany Bay, musket shots were fired at first contact, in order to deter the Aborigines. Spears and shields were seized. One of the Aborigines’ shields, now an artefact, is held today by the British Museum and regarded as one of the most important objects of its collection.

The “Endeavour” and its crew sailed northwards following and charting the coast until the ship ran aground, near modern-day Cooktown on the Queensland coast. The six-week layover for repairs at a place later renamed after ship, the Endeavour River, provided Banks and Solander with their best opportunity for plant hunting expeditions. Many of the most valuable samples from the journey came from there. Parkinson sketched the kangaroo, the first known western image of the creature, and also documented further exchanges with the Aborigines.

The Journey Home

After repairs to the ”Endeavour” were completed, Cook set course northwards through the East Indies on the long journey home. But in Batavia, disaster struck. More than a third of the crew died. Banks’ artist, Parkinson, Tupai, and the astronomer, Green, all lost their lives as disease swept through the crew in a matter of weeks.


When the “Endeavour” finally made it home three years after it left, it was big news. The journey made Banks famous, as he was soon being courted and celebrated in London society.

Banks’ circle of influence included famous names in London, during the 1770s and the following decade, such as Boswell and Johnson, an artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, along with Samuel West, painted his portrait. Banks became a member of several societies, including the intriguingly named “Dilettante Society,” as was custom at the time for rich aristocrats, enjoying the Grand Tour. Banks was lampooned in the press, and caricatured as “The Botanic Macaroni,” and the “Great South Sea Caterpillar.”

Banks set up residence at 32 Soho Square in the heart of London. For the next thirty years, he played host to explorers, naturalists and botanists, who came to marvel at his collection, which he willingly shared. Solander moved in, combining the role of the colleague and personal secretary, until his untimely and early death of a stroke in 1783. Solander’s death devastated Banks; it is often thought that it was the reason for his massive pictorial record of the “Endeavour” journey, known as the “Florilegium,” which was never finished.

Banks: Patron Of Artists

Banks patronage of artists before, during, and after his epic journey of discovery was a common thread in his career. In an age before photography, artists were critical of visualizing far away places. Yet Banks searched out the best artists to join his many missions, organizing them for more than fifty years.

Sydney Parkinson was the most famous and prolific of Banks’ artists, on account of his magnificent work onboard the “Endeavour.” Banks also promoted the Austrian artist, Ferdinand Bauer, who accompanied Matthew Flinders on his famous circumnavigation of Australia, along with William Westall. Banks was also close to the French artist, Zoffany, whom he sought to join the Flinders mission, though unsuccessful.

Ironically, Banks’ greatest artistic achievement was the production of more than seven hundred lithographs from copper plates made from Parkinson’s drawings. They were to remain incomplete, seemingly abandoned after Solander’s death.

Science & The State: Banks and the Institutions

Kew and the King

Banks’ discoveries brought him close to King George III, as they both shared a mutual love of farming and agriculture. Banks would visit the King at his Palace at Kew for many years, touring the palace gardens. Banks was even instrumental in turning them into “Botanical Gardens” and becoming their first Superintendent.

Royal Society

Banks remained the longest serving President of the Royal Society, remaining in that post for more than forty years.

British Museum

Banks persuaded George IV, after the death of his father, George III, to bequeath his huge natural history library to the British Museum. The Kings Library is still in the museum today.

Natural History Museum

Resolution & Discovery

Resolution & Discovery

In addition to Banks’ botanic collections held in his Herbarium, it is thought that the custom built shelves and cupboards made for Banks’ Soho Square home are also in the Museum.

The Natural History Museum is also home to the famous “Florilegium” lithographic prints, made from the more than seven hundred copper plates produced by Banks of Parkinson’s famous botanic drawings. Given the immense volume of work, Parkinson often just sketched, and partially coloured his work. Because of Parkinson’s death, artists in London finished the work. But Banks never finished producing the copper plates; he didn’t even begin the final phase of the work, creating the colour lithographs from the plates themselves. This was finally done almost two hundred years later in the 1980s, when a joint venture between the Natural History Museum and Alecto Historical Editions, produced a hundred sets.

Linnaean Society

Banks was behind the deal that brought Linnaeus’ library and collection to Britain after his death. In 1786, after Linnaeus died, his family made contact with Banks in London seeking a home for his collection. Banks persuaded Smith, a wealthy landowner, to buy it. But the last minute attempt by the Swedish royal family to save the collection for the nation failed.

Royal Horticultural Society

Banks also had a role in the setting up of the RHS.

Convict Australia

Banks, more than any other individual, influenced the British Government’s decision to establish a penal colony in Sydney, known at the time as “Botany Bay,” after the American War of Independence put an end to the practice of sending convicts to the southern state of Georgia.

In the 1780s, Banks was one of the few people to have actually seen what was then known as New South Wales.

Re-Distributing The World’s Crops

Banks’ knowledge of plants, climate, and growing conditions in the newly discovered parts of the world, meant that he was perfect to oversee a government-sanctioned scheme of plant exchanges, designed to for the sole purpose of empowering and benefiting the British Empire.

Banks was behind the introduction of sheep to Australia, and many fruit and vegetable plants, which significantly altered the landscape of the country. He corresponded regularly with early Governors, exchanging notes on all aspects of the development of agriculture in the nescient colony, including how to keep plants alive on long sea journeys.

Banks And Race

One of Banks’ lesser-known activities was his role as an agent, assisting in the collection of heads of native peoples of the Pacific, including Aboriginal and Maori heads. Banks was a friend of the German anatomist, Johannes Blumenbach, who wanted the heads to assist in his study of race. In this pre-Darwinian age, naturalists, such as Linnaeus, believed there were different species of humans. Linnaeus, who introduced the words “Homo sapiens” to the world, speculated on the existence of a species he called “Homo Troglodytes,” which had a tail.

Blumenbach and others maintained there were different races, not species. Banks had heads of Aboriginal warriors delivered by royal courier to Blumenbach in Germany. An early Governor of NSW, Phillip Gidley King, sent Banks the head of Pemulwuy, a famous Aboriginal “freedom fighter,” who attacked British settlements and troops until he was captured and slain in 1803.

Banks: Patron Of Explorers


Banks was the organising force behind many missions of discovery. The most famous was that of William Bligh, an accomplished sailor and navigator, who had been on Cook’s third and fateful journey when he was hacked to death in Hawaii. Banks nominated him for an expedition on board the “Bounty,” which would transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies, where it would be grown to feed the slaves.

The mutiny by the disgruntled crew led by Fletcher Christian is famous. The mutineers sailed the Bounty to distant Pitcairn Island where it was scuttled. Bligh was cast into an open boat with his colleagues, where he navigated and survived a perilous course across the Pacific to the East Indies.

When Bligh returned to England, he cleared his name, and was dispatched by Banks again to complete his mission; this time it was successful. The breadfruit plants landed in the East Indies, although its cultivation was never the success that Banks had hoped for.


Mathew Flinders

Mathew Flinders

Like Banks, Captain Matthew Flinders was from Lincolnshire. After a successful role on Bligh’s second mission, he was nominated by Banks to undertake a mission to circumnavigate Australia. In 1803, he successfully charted its coast. It was Flinders who gave the country its name. Tragically, Flinders was detained by the French in Mauritius on his way home at the height of the Napoleonic Wars and kept a prisoner for seven years. Finally released in 1811, he returned to London. He published the famous journal of his Australian discoveries, only to die days later; he was around forty years old.

Banks: The Collector

Banks was one of Britain’s greatest collectors of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Banks’ botanic collection was bequeathed eventually to London’s Natural History Museum. Banks’ collection, together with Sir Hans Sloane’s, which plants Sloane had established for the Chelsea Physic Garden, both formed much of the museum’s founding collection.

But Banks’ collections spanned interests far beyond botany, as Banks was a keen patron of the arts. Banks commissioned artists, such as Parkinson on the Endeavour mission, and Bauer and Westall on the Flinders’ mission that circumnavigated Australia, to depict the country’s nature and its inhabitants.

Banks’s also collected and looted cultural artefacts and objects from his encounters with Pacific Islanders, the Maori of New Zealand, the Australian Aborigines, and the natives of the East Indies.

Banks wanted to join Cook on his second mission to the Pacific in 1773, but fell out with the Admiral over his grand plan for the voyage; Banks insisted on an enlarged party, which included musicians. The Navy said Banks’ proposed redesign of “The Resolution,” would render the ship and the journey, unsafe. Banks had even made brass plates, and replicas of Maori clubs to give as gifts to iron hungry Pacific Islanders.

Final Years

In his later years, Banks was severely affected by gout that crippled him; he even had to be carried around. But he kept working to the end, fulfilling his duties as President of the Royal Society and promoting plant hunting expeditions across the globe.

In 1820, he died at his home in Spring Grove, at his mini estate on the outskirts of West London.

Lost Legacy

Banks died childless, which undoubtedly contributed to the breaking up of his Estate, in the decades after his death. A grandnephew on his wife’s side attempted to sell Banks’ private papers, almost a hundred thousand letters, to the British Museum, but the offer was declined. Thereafter, they were disbursed.

Banks manor house on his 20,000-acre estate at Revesby, in Lincolnshire, was destroyed by fire, and the estate passed out of the family.

Banks’ famous home at 32 Soho Square, London, which was an epicentre for scientific, cultural and social life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was demolished in the early 20th century. The new owner of his house in Spring Grove, near the Royal Botanic Gardens, a home where had Banks spent more than forty years, demolished it after it was sold.

Banks wanted neither monument nor anyone at his funeral. He was buried in a vault underneath St. Leonard’s Church at Heston Cemetery, in the outskirts of west London.

Colonial Australia: The Gold Rush And Ned Kelly

Colonial Australia: The Gold Rush And Ned Kelly

The Gold Rush

The Victorian gold rush was quite a significant part of Australia’s history, which began in 1851 when one of the earlier discoveries by Thomas Peters, a hut-keeper found fragments of gold near Specimen Gully.  After this monumental discovery, more gold was found in additional cities throughout Australia, including Ballarat, Beechworth, Bendigo, Stawell and Melbourne.  With the draw of gold, the population inevitably increased as well, with everyone wanting a piece of the pie.


Ballarat was known as Victoria’s largest inland city during the gold rush, which earned it the name, The Golden City. Gold was discovered here in August 1851 by John Dunlop and James Regan.  They found a few ounces in the Canadian Creek.  Ballarat saw an enormous population boom and by the end of September, almost 1,000 miners were drawn here with the hopes of discovering gold.  Within just two years, in 1853, more than 20,000 miners of varying nationalities inhabited the area and were working in the mine fields.

With the discovery of gold and the many people who flocked to the area to search for it, the Government in Melbourne decided to set up a system of Gold Licenses to allow miners to search for gold on a specified piece of land.  Whether or not the miners found gold, they were still required to pay the license fee.  If a digger was found without a license, the consequence was to pay a fine or be chained to a log until the fine was paid.  The diggers had no say in whether or not they thought these fines were unfair and the government gave the police power to accept checks and due to the shortage of manpower, many police were ex-convicts who operated in a callous way.

June 10th, 1858 marked a momentous day with the founding of the enormous Welcome Nugget, weighing 68,956 grams and contained approximately 68,272 grams of pure gold.  At Ballarat’s zenith, the goldfield supported 300 companies and the population reached in the region of 64,000.

Eureka Stockade


The gold miners of Ballarat did not back down easily from authority.  They organized a rebellion against the colonial authority of the United Kingdom.  This battle is widely known as the Eureka Stockade.  On November 30, 1854, Peter Lalor led the miners to the Eureka diggings, where they erected the famous stockade.  It was a makeshift wooden barricade, which surrounded approximately an acre of the gold fields.  Over the next two days inside the stockade, 500 diggers took an oath on the Southern Cross Flag.  They accumulated firearms and built pikes to defend the stockade.  In the early hours of the day on December 3rd, the authorities initiated an attack on the stockade.  The battle lasted a mere twenty minutes. The diggers were outnumbered by the police troops, who claimed victory over the diggers.  Twenty-two diggers and five troops lost their lives that day.

Lalor, the leader of the group escaped the scene, although he too was injured and his arm was later amputated.  December 6th saw the implementation of martial law and a committee was selected. In February of 1855, thirteen diggers were sent to trial and all of them were acquitted.  The lone person that was imprisoned was Henry Seekamp, the editor of the Ballarat Times, who was found guilty of fictitious libel.  Through this trial, all of the demands of the diggers were met and they were given rights that were more appealing to them than what was previously imposed.  A bill was passed, where diggers who owned a miner’s right that cost one pound were now allowed to vote.  This twenty minute battle led to huge changes in Australian democracy and is noted as the only example of armed rebellion that lead to reform unfair laws.


Old equipment left at the New Chum Hill site near the old gold rush town of Kiandra in the Kosciuszko National Park - Mike Stanic Flickr Commons

The second largest goldfield, in terms of production was claimed by the city of Bendigo.  1851 marked the discovery of gold here along the banks of Bendigo Creek.  Naturally, this resulted in a major gold rush.  The discovery of gold known as alluvial gold (found beneath the surface at the bottom of a creek or stream. It usually takes the form of dust or thin flakes or nuggets), was attributed to two women.  Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Farrell were the wives of two workers on the Mt. Alexander North pastoral property.  The growth of miners within less than one year was astronomical.  In December of 1851, there were 800 people on the field, and a mere six months later, 20,000 diggers had been drawn to the alluvial field.  Alluvial gold took over the first ten years of the field until 1860 and it’s estimated that it accounted for approximately four million ounces or nearly one fifth of the total gold from the Bendigo Goldfield.

Chinese Population In Bendigo

Chinese people, specifically, were attracted to the Bendigo goldfields in large numbers.  They established a large Chinatown on a plentiful gold run to the north east of the city at Emu Point. Within ten years the Chinese miners and merchants made up 20% of the Bendigo population, reaching a high of 40,000 people by 1858.

Due to the soaring Chinese population growth, there was a fear that the Chinese would outnumber the white people and would be the dominant race.  Additionally, there was extra competition on the goldfields and in the labor market.  This fear led to discrimination by the white miners and therefore, the Chinese miners were forced to pay a poll tax in 1855, which equaled twice the amount of a weekly wage of a skilled worker.

They were involved in other activities on the goldfields that ranged from herbalists and merchants to restaurateurs. As a cultural group they stood out because most preserved their identity and customs.  Although rioting didn’t happen very often, there were some instances where full-scale rioting resulted as angry Europeans attacked Chinese diggers at places such as: Buckland River in Victoria in 1857 and Lambing Flat in NSW in 1860-1861.

During the decline of the alluvial gold fields, most of the Chinese gold miners returned home, with only a small population remaining to form the Bendigo Chinese community. This community has continued to influence the city until today.  Other ethnic communities also developed including the Germans at Ironbark Gully and the Irish at St Killian’s.



A small amount of gold was discovered in Stawell, formerly known as Pleasant Creek Victoria, in May of 1853 by William McLachlan.  Although the find was made known, not many people came here then. It was a very isolated area, then where water was scarce and there were no supplies of food while the gold fields of Ballarat, Bendigo, Clunes etc. were operating with stores already established. Some people did come and there were also people passing through here from South Australia to the Victorian gold fields that stopped and found small quantities of gold.

In 1857 the big rush swept in at what became known as Commercial Street, Pleasant Creek. This rush spread across to Deep Lead and was reported at the height of the rush to be 25,000 to 30,000 people there.  At the same time, shafts were being sunk around Big Hill and gold was found in the quartz there.

Much alluvial gold was found in the Illawarra/Deep Lead area. The diggers took their gold and left and the field had dwindled away by 1859, lasting less then two years with a very diminishing numbers of diggers.  The Quartz Reefs became a stable gold field and companies were created to purchase the machinery needed, which employed many miners. This gold field was known as “Stawell’s Golden Mile” although it extended for a mile and a half or more from the Wonga, along the foot of Big Hill and down Newington Road out to the Three Jacks.

The miners in Stawell wanted more free time and therefore created more entertainment.  Stawell is known for The Stawell Gift, which was formed in 1878.  It is a fun race between miners at the end of the gold rush and has been raced every year since, except for four years during World War II. Originally it was the townspeople putting together an entertainment package to happen over Easter, complete with ‘special trains’ to the event. Today it is the most prestigious footrace in Australia with a $40,000AUD first prize. The event is sponsored by Australian Post and the finals are televised live around Australia.

Shipwreck Coast


The Limestone coast of South Australia and the south west coast of Victoria is known as the Shipwreck Coast.  This particular area of coastline is made up of cliffs, reef, islands and outcrops of rocks. The combination of the coastline, the winds of the ‘roaring forties’ and the often stormy seas, sailing and navigating these waters could be very treacherous.  There were over 80 shipwrecks along a 130 Kilometre or 150 Mile stretch of the Victorian coast from Port Fairy to Cape Otway.

The Australian gold rushes of the early 1850s had created increased demand for imports and emigrants.  The Australian gold fields’ demand for passenger ships led shipowners such as Duncan Dunbar to order the construction of a clipper from the English shipbuilding firm of James Laing and Sons at Sunderland in 1852.  This ship took 16 months to build and was launched in 1853. The Dunbar was wrecked during a period of immense social and economic growth in Australia.

It was not until 1856 that the first visit was made to Australia and by May 1857 the vessel and crew were ready for a second voyage to the colony.  However, the return voyage was not as successful.  On August 20, 1857, the ship arrived in dreadful conditions.  Due to the heavy rain and squalls, visibility was reduced to a few hundred meters and instead of entering the safety of the harbour, the Dunbar crashed onto boulders at the foot of South Head. The impact brought down the masts, huge waves sank the lifeboats and the Dunbar was dragged by the waves. While the ship was lying on the side of the cliffs, the vessel broke up almost immediately.  There was one sole survivor, seaman James Johnson, who was washed onto a ledge on the cliff face.  Sadly, the remaining 58 crew and all 63 passengers drowned.



Melbourne also saw a huge increase in their population when gold was first discovered there.  The town’s population doubled within a year.  In 1852, 75,000 people arrived in the colony and this, combined with a very high birthrate, led to rapid population growth. The accelerated population growth and the enormous wealth of the goldfields stimulated a boom, which lasted for forty years and lead to the era known as “marvellous Melbourne.”

In less than a decade, the gold rushes transformed Melbourne from a chaotic colonial service town to a great metropolis with the poise of a modern city.  But in the early years of the gold rushes, Melbourne had trouble keeping up with its newfound wealth. By mid-November 1851, Melbourne was deep in the hold of gold-fever.  News spread of unimaginable riches being unearthed from Mount Alexander.  As the diggers washed handfuls of soil, they found varying sizes of particles of gold, the biggest being the size of a grain of mustard.  Gold continued to be uncovered in places such as Emerald Hill, the Melbourne Gaul, in the footpath of Hoddle Street, at Prahran railway station, on Batman’s Hill, on Richmond Hill again (in sinking a cellar), at Templestowe and Heidelberg.

The Royal Arcade And Block Arcade

Two historical and significant structures that were created originally in 1869, represent the gold rush era.  For instance, Melbourne’s Golden Mile heritage walk runs through the Royal and Block arcades.  The Royal Arcade is beautifully designed and very pleasing to the eye, with high glass roof and windowed stores.  The arcade also contains statues of mythical figures Gog and Magog as well as a clock that sounds each hour.

On the other hand, the Block Arcade was known for its well known young hoodlum  gang called the “barracade boys” who dealt drugs all day and hired prostitutes at night.  This arcade was constructed between 1891 and 1893, which was designed by architect David C. Askew.  The inspiration for his design was the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele in Milan.  The result turned out beautifully, with mosaic tiled flooring, glass canopy, wrought iron and carved stone finishings.  The exterior is one of the greatest examples of Victorian Mannerist style.

The End Of The Gold Rush

The gold rushes left the legacy of picturesque Victorian towns in the Goldfields tourist region like Maldon, Beechworth, Clunes, Heathcote, Stawell, Beaufort and many other cities With the exception of Ballarat and Bendigo.  During the gold rush period, many of these towns were significantly larger than they are today, as the population boom, eventually dwindled down when the people left after the rushes. Most populations moved to other districts when gold ceased to be the driving force to stay in a given region.  In contrast, some ghost towns emerged, such as Wakhalla, Mafeking and Steigkitz, which still exist today.

The last major gold rush in Victoria was at Berringa, south of Ballarat, in the first decade of the 20th century. The end of gold mining in Victoria was largely attributed to the depth and cost of pumping. WWI also drained Australia of the labour needed to work the mines. However, the dominant reason was due to the prohibition on the export of gold from Australia in 1915 and the abolition of the gold standard throughout the Empire saw many gold-towns in Victoria die.  The decline in gold production never fully recovered. However, as of 2005 the recent increase in the gold price has seen resurgence in commercial mining activity with mining resuming in both of the major fields of Bendigo and Ballarat.

The Ned Kelly Story

Ned_Kelly_in_1880 - Wikimedia CommonsThe Early Years

Ned Kelly was born in June of 1855 in Beveridge, Victoria to an Irish family and is known as the most famous bush ranger in Australia’s rich history. His family home is the beginning of the Ned Kelly trail and some would say he was a common hero, while others proclaim he was a common murderer.  It was evident that crime ran in the Kelly family.  His father was a convict who was arrested for stealing pigs and spent seven years in prison, while his step-father stole horses, in which Ned accompanied him in doing.  Additionally, his brothers spent time in prison for crimes and thievery.

A Lifetime Of Crime

Ned attended school at Avenel until his father died on December 27, 1866. With his mother and siblings, they moved to a hut at Eleven Mile Creek, about half-way between Greta and Glenrowan in northern Victoria. It didn’t take very long for Ned to get into trouble with the law.

In 1869 Ned was arrested for alleged assault on a Chinaman and held for ten days on remand but the charge was dismissed. Next year he was arrested and held in custody for seven weeks as a suspected accomplice of the bushranger, Harry Power, who was also Kelly’s mentor, but the charge was dismissed again.

Kelly’s crimes didn’t end there.  In 1870 at just fifteen years old, was convicted of summary offenses and sent to prison for six months.  On top of that Kelly accepted a mare that he knew was stolen and sentenced to three years in prison. He somehow was always released from prison and in 1874, the same year he was set free from prison, his mother got remarried to George King.  Kelly found another partner in crime with his stepfather, King and in 1876, the two assisted each other in stealing horses in an area that was notorious for it.

Another incident occurred in April of 1878 when a police trooper named, Fitzpatrick arrived at Mrs. Kelly’s home and claimed that Ned Kelly shot him.  The real facts of the case were never uncovered but nonetheless, family members, including: Mrs. Kelly, her son-in-law, William Skillion, and a neighbour, William Williamson, were arrested and charged with aiding and supporting the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick.  They were convicted.  Mrs. Kelly was sentenced to three years, while the men were sentenced to six.  Ned and Dan Kelly were nowhere to be found, as they had gone into hiding in the Wombat Ranges, but they were still fervently sought after, even offering a reward for information leading to their capture.

In October of that same year, a search was put into place to find Ned Kelly at Stringybark Creek. Next day Kennedy and Scanlon went out on patrol, leaving Lonigan and McIntyre at the camp. The Kelly gang surprised the camp and when Lonigan drew his revolver Ned shot him dead. McIntyre surrendered. When Kennedy and Scanlon returned, they did not surrender when called on, and in an exchange of shots Ned killed Scanlon and mortally wounded Kennedy. Ned later shot him in the heart, claiming it was an act of mercy. McIntyre escaped to Mansfield and reported the killings. This is known to be the biggest mass murder of police in the state even today. Ultimately, this fueled the Ned Kelly fire even more, increasing the reward amount and motivating the police to be merciless in their search to capture these outlaws.  To honor the policeman that lost their lives (including Police Sergeant Michael Kennedy, and Mounted Constables Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan), a monument was erected.

 Ned Kelly Fights For Justice

Later that same year in December, the Kelly gang was at it again.  They committed scores of more crimes, from taking over a sheep station to holding up a bank in Euroa.  They continued forward and in February of 1879, the gang took possession of a police station in Jerilderie and then went on to hold up a bank while wearing police uniforms in New South Wales.

Kelly, however felt justified in what he was doing. Ned had given a written statement of over 8000 words to a bank-teller. It is unclear what happened to the original and an earlier statement that Kelly sent to Donald Cameron, M.L.A. (1877-1880), but long after Kelly’s death, copies made by a clerk in the Crown Law department became available. Known as the ‘Cameron letter’ and the ‘Jerilderie letter’, they are Kelly’s explanation and justification of his conduct. This was seen as Kelly’s manifesto and plea for justice for his families and other poor Irish settlers.

The Last Days Of Ned Kelly

1880 marked the final year of Ned Kelly’s life.  In Glenrowan, Byrne and Dan joined Ned and Hart, where they took possession of the hotel run by Mrs. Ann Jones and detained approximately sixty people.  They schemed to ruin the railroad tracks to derail a special police train coming into Glenrowan and declare a republic of North East Victoria. However, before anything happened, Thomas Curnow, a man that Ned Kelly let leave the hotel with his wife child and sister, leaked the information to the train crew. Under Superintendent Hare, the police encircled the hotel and shooting began. Hare was shot in the arm and Ned was wounded in the foot, hand and arm. Dan, Byrne and Hart took sanctuary in the hotel and Ned went into the bush.

In Melbourne on October 28th-29th 1880, Kelly was tried for the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek. He was found guilty and the judge, Redmond Barry, sentenced him to death.  Kelly was hanged at the Melbourne gaol on November 11th, 1880.  His last words uttered were “such is life.” Ned Kelly was only twenty-five years old.

The Ned Kelly Trail

Today, for those who wish to explore Ned Kelly’s life in person and in more detail, the Ned Kelly trail was created to explore all of the various towns and cities he visited and lived his life, starting all the way back to the home he was born in, in the town of Beveridge.  Along the trail, there are stops in Euroa, where Kelly held up a bank, Glenrowan, where the Kelly gang made their last stand against the police.  Then it goes on to Beechworth Gaol, the area where Ned, his mother Eileen and Kelly supporters served sentences.  The Kelly trail continues on to reach the Kelly Tree at Stringybark Creek, where the gang became known as Australia’s most wanted outlaws after three policemen were killed.

Other historical sites can be viewed along the way, such as the graves and memorial in honor of the three policemen who lost their lives, the bootmaker’s shop in Arundel Street where Ned hid to escape the police, the Costume and Pioneer Museum, Benalla cemetery, where many of the people part of the Kelly period are buried and The “Echoes of History-Historical and Cultural Precinct,” which includes The Gold Office and Treasury, Warden’s Office and Bourke Museum to name a few.

The last few places on the trail are Power’s Lookout, where Kelly’s mentor Harry Power hid himself away from the police.  It’s known to have incredible views across the mountains and it’s obvious why Power chose this place to hide away. Finally, the end of the trail is The Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was hanged, as well as 135 more inmates. Although there were 30,000 people that signed a petition against Ned Kelly’s hanging, his fate was inevitable.

A Short History Of Convict Australia

A Short History Of Convict Australia

Who Were The Convicts?

The late 18th century was a period of immense social and political change. France was reeling from revolution and America had just gained her independence.

In Britain the industrial revolution had driven thousands of poverty-stricken country folk to the cities. As a new underclass dependent on crime emerged, the prisons were overflowing and the hangman had his work cut out dealing with the perpetrators of serious offences.

In 1787 the establishment urgently needed a new solution to the problem of the burgeoning prison population.

The botanist from Captain Cook’s discovery expedition 18 years earlier eventually hit upon the idea of Botany Bay, Australia. It wasn’t the ideal choice because the place had only been glimpsed once and the 15,000 mile voyage would take more than 8 months.

Punishment-of-convictsNevertheless, between 1788 and 1868 165,000 British and Irish convicts made the arduous journey to an unknown land we now call Australia.

The majority of the 165,000 convicts transported to Australia were poor and illiterate, victims of the Poor Laws and social conditions in Georgian England. Eight out of ten prisoners were convicted for larceny of some description.

However, apart from unskilled and semi-skilled labourers from Britain and Ireland, transportees came from astonishingly varied ethnic backgrounds: American, Corsican, French, Hong Kong, Chinese, West Indian, Indian, and African.

There were political prisoners and prisoners of war, as well as a motley collection of professionals such as lawyers, surgeons and teachers.

The average age of a transportee was 26, and their number included children who were either convicted of crimes or were making the journey with their mothers. Just one in six transportees was a woman.

Depending on the offence, for the first 40 years of transportation convicts were sentenced to terms of seven years, 10 years, or life.



When prisoners were condemned to transportation, they knew there was little chance they’d see their homeland, or their loved ones again. Even if they survived the long, cruel journey they didn’t really know what fate awaited them in a land on the other side of the world.
Relatively few convicts returned home – partly because the system of reprieves extended to so few and partly because they tended to settle in Australia. Three quarters of the convicts were unmarried when they left home, so those who found a partner during the voyage or once they arrived in Australia weren’t likely to leave them behind.

Nevertheless, transportation was a terrifying prospect. As they awaited their fate, prisoners were detained in the rotting hulks of old warships, transformed into makeshift prisons and rammed up against the mud at Portsmouth Harbour and London’s Royal Docklands.

Convict_lovetokensHulks And Love Tokens

Holed up in the hulks awaiting the dreaded voyage to begin, it was common practice for transportees to spent their days engraving love-tokens which they would give as last mementos to friends and relatives. Many used the 1797 copper cartwheel penny, and the inscriptions range from just the name and date of deportation to elaborate poems and etchings of convicts in chains and boats. Professional engravers were even allowed on board the hulks, and prisoners would commission them to craft a poignant keepsake on their behalf.

The Voyage

convicts in a prison ship

The journey was long and hard. For the first 20 years, prisoners were chained up for the entire 8 months at sea. The cells were divided into compartments by wooden or iron bars. On some ships as many as 50 convicts were crammed into one compartment.

Discipline was brutal, and the officers themselves were often illiterate, drunken and cruel. Their crews were recruited from waterside taverns. They were hardened thugs who wouldn’t shrink from imposing the toughest punishment on a convict who broke the rules.

Disease, scurvy and sea-sickness were rife. Although only 39 of the 759 convicts on the first fleet died, conditions deteriorated. By the year 1800 one in 10 prisoners died during the voyage. Many convicts related loosing up to 10 teeth due to scurvy, and outbreaks of dysentery made conditions foul in the confined space below deck.

Convict ships transporting women inevitably became floating brothels, and women were subjected to varying degrees of degradation. In fact, in 1817 a British judge acknowledged that it was accepted that the younger women be taken to the cabins of the officers each night, or thrown in with the crew.

Australia-Day-Flags-by-Nir-Sinay---Flickr-CommonsAustralia Day

The first fleet entered Botany Bay in January 1788. On arrival, however, the bay was deemed unsuitable and the transportation tarried 9 miles north, landing at Sydney Cove six days later.

The night the male convicts were landed, January 26th 1788, the Union Jack was hoisted, toasts were drunk and a succession of volleys were fired as Captain Arthur Philips and his officers gave three cheers.

Australia Day is an annual celebration commemorating the first landing of white settlers in Australia. These days there’s fireworks, parades, arts, crafts, food and family entertainment. It’s seen as a celebration of Australian culture and way of life.

For those convicts who disembarked in Sydney Cove in 1788, however, the first Australia Day was a bewildering experience. Unused to their land legs, they stumbled cursing through the uncultivated wood in which they had landed. It was two weeks before enough tents huts had been constructed for the female convicts to disembark, and in the midst of a gale they held the first bush party in Australia – dancing, singing and drinking while the storm raged and couples wedged themselves between the red, slimy rocks.

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park - Flikr Creative CommonsThe Aborigines

The aboriginal people had lived in Australia undisturbed by white men for sixty thousand years before the arrival of the first fleet. For them, the arrival of the convicts was catastrophic.

Their first encounter with their new neighbours was the sight of one huge orgy on the beach. Nevertheless, at first the Aborigines pitied the prisoners and couldn’t understand the cruelty of the soldiers towards them. Gradually the convicts began to resent the rations and clothing the Aborigines received, and they took to stealing their tools and weapons to sell to the sailors as souvenirs.

In May 1788 a convict was found speared in the bush and a week later two more were murdered. Between 2000 and 2500 Europeans and more than 20,000 Aborigines were killed in conflicts between convicts and aborigines.

The convicts felt the need to establish a class below themselves. Australian racism towards the Aboriginal people originated from the convicts and gradually percolated up through society. This marked the beginning of a bitter, painful battle for the survival of Aboriginal culture which has raged for than 200 years.

convict-punishmentConvict Life

A convict’s life was neither easy nor pleasant. The work was hard, accommodation rough and ready and the food none too palatable. Nevertheless the sense of community offered small comforts when convicts met up with their mates from the hulks back home, or others who had been transported on the same ship.

Convict Work

Male convicts were brought ashore a day or so after their convoy landed arrival. They were marched up to the Government Lumber Yard, where they were stripped, washed, inspected and had their vital statistics recorded.

If convicts were skilled, for example carpenters, blacksmiths or stonemasons, they may have been retained and employed on the government works programme. Otherwise they were assigned to labouring work or given over to property owners, merchant or farmers who may once have been convicts themselves

convict food from the Sydney Living MuseumsConvict Diet

A convict’s daily rations were by no means substantial. Typically, they would consist of:

Breakfast: A roll and a bowl of skilly, a porridge-like dish made from oatmeal, water, and if they were lucky, scrapings meat.
Lunch: A large bread roll and a pound of dried, salted meat.
Dinner: One bread roll and, if they were lucky, a cup of tea.

As if this wasn’t enough to turn your stomach, the officials had an unpleasant cure for hangovers and drunkenness, which they imposed on convicts who were overly fond of rum. The ‘patient’ was forced to drink a quart of warm water containing a wine-glass full of spirits and five grains of tartar emetic. He was then carried to a darkened room, in the centre of which was a large drum onto which he was fastened. The drum was revolved rapidly, which made the patient violently sick. He was then put to bed, supposedly disgusted by the smell of spirits!

Ian-Wright-in-Convict-OutfitConvict Clothing

Until 1810 convicts were permitted to wear ordinary civilian clothes in Australia. The new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, wanted to set the convicts apart from the increasing numbers of free settlers who were flocking to Australia.

The distinctive new uniform marked out the convicts very clearly. The trousers were marked with the letters PB, for Prison Barracks. They were buttoned down the sides of the legs, which meant they could be removed over a pair of leg irons.

Convict Class System

A class system evolved amidst the convict community. The native born children of convict couples were known as ‘currency’, whereas the children of officials were known as ‘sterling’.

A wealthy class of ‘Emancipists’ (former convicts) sprung up when the Governor began to integrate reformed convicts to the fledgling society. These Emancipists, who often employed convicts in their turn, were very much despised by the soldiers and free-exclusives who had come to Australia of their own free will.

Convict Housing

For those convicts who remained in Sydney, lodgings were available in a neighbourhood called The Rocks. It was a fairly free community with few restrictions on daily life. Here, husbands and wives could be assigned to each other and some businesses were even opened by convicts still under sentence.

The Rocks became notorious for drunkenness, prostitution, filth and thieving, and in 1819 Governor MacQuarie built Hyde Park Barracks, which afforded greater security.

Those sent to work in other towns or in the bush were often given food and lodging by their employer. The road projects and penal colonies offered far less comfortable accommodation, often with 20 sweaty bodies crammed into a small hut.



When convicts arrived in Australia, detailed reports were compiled of their physical appearance, including distinguishing marks. At the beginning of the 19th century one in four convicts was tattooed, and although it’s hard for us to fully understand what these may have meant to the individual, some are interesting, even witty comments on convict life.

Some tattoos appear to be poignant love tokens and permanent reminders of the life and loved ones they left behind.

Some are cheeky remonstrations with the officials, such as the words ‘Strike me fair, stand firm and do your duty‘.

Similarly, a crucifix tattooed on a convict’s back would give that impression that Christ himself was being flogged, and angels were standing by with a cup to catch the blood. This implies that it is the authorities that are sinful.

Women Transported LrgConvict Women

Women made up 15% of the convict population. They are reported to have been low-class women, foul mouthed and with loose morals. Nevertheless they were told to dress in clothes from London and lined up for inspection so that the officers could take their pick of the prettiest.

Until they were assigned work, women were taken to the Female Factories, where they performed menial tasks like making clothes or toiling over wash-tubs. It was also the place where women were sent as a punishment for misbehaving, if they were pregnant or had illegitimate children.

Other punishments for women include an iron collar fastened round the neck, or having her head shaved as a mark of disgrace. Often these punishments were for moral misdemeanours, such as being ‘found in the yard of an inn in an indecent posture for an immoral purpose‘, or ‘misconduct in being in a brothel with her mistress’ child‘.

As women were a scarcity in the colony, if they married they could be assigned to free settlers. Often, desperate men would go looking for a wife at the Female Factories.

Ticket-of-leavePardon And Punishment

Tickets of leave were normally granted after four years for those with a seven-year sentence, six years for a fourteen-year sentence and eight-years for life. The principal superintendent looked at the applications and depending on how much extra punishment the prisoner had received he’d make a decision to recommend the ticket or not.

A ticket of leave would exempt convict from public labour and allow them to work for themselves.

After this a prisoner may receive conditional pardon, which meant he was free but had to stay in Australia, or absolute pardon, which meant he was free to return to England.

If a prisoner was uncooperative or committed further crimes there was an equally well defined scale of punishments he would receive: first working on a road gang, then being sent to a penal colony, and finally capital punishment.

There were also a number of incidental punishments a prisoner could receive: flogging, solitary confinement, treadmill, the stocks, food depravation and thumbscrews.


A prisoner had to be sentenced to flogging by a magistrate. There would be a scourger present, a surgeon and a drummer to count the beats. Often floggings were carried out in public, as a warning to other convicts not to commit the same offence.

There are Australians alive today who remember the horrific scars borne by their grandparents as a result of brutal floggings.

On Norfolk Island an instrument called a cat’o nine tails was used to flog the convicts. This was a whip made of leather strands, with a piece of lead attached to each thong. The lead would tear deep into the flesh with each stroke, and the only effective relief from the agony it inflicted was to urinate on the ground then lie the open wounds on it.

Australian Penal Colonies

The conditions in the penal colonies were exceptionally harsh. Prisoners who re-offended were sent to the colonies, and it was unlikely they’d ever be freed under the system of reprieves.

Penitentiary_ruin_on_Sarah_Island-smallMacquarie Harbour Penal Station

The natural prison built in the middle of Macquarie Harbour, known as Sarah Island, was meant to be escape proof. It was surrounded by impenetrable rainforest and very few escape attempts were recorded.

The convicts who were sent to Sarah Island were often escapees from other penal colonies. Others were skilled men whose task it was to build ships.

The convicts were cut down the massive Huen Pines, lash the logs together and raft them down the river. They would work twelve hours a day in freezing cold water, in leg-irons, under the continual scrutiny of the guards. Not surprisingly their main objective was escape.

Norfolk Island - Flickr creative commonsNorfolk Island

Fifteen hundred miles off the coast of New South Wales was the most brutal prison of the convict period. Its name was Norfolk Island. The British wanted an institution that would act as a deterrent in the colony, which would terrify even those in Britain who heard its name.

Sir Thomas Brisbane wrote ‘I wish it to be understood that the felon who is sent there is forever excluded from all hope of return‘.

Indeed a high number of prisoners preferred suicide to enduring the abominable conditions. Others poisoned, burned or blinded themselves in attempts to avoid work.  Their physical and mental health suffered due to interminable hard labour, poor diet, overcrowding, coarse, uncomfortable clothing and harsh punishments such as flogging with a cat’o nine tails and being chained to the floor.

The men lived forever in the shadow of the ‘Murderers Mound’, where twelve of the convicts who participated in an uprising in July 1846 were executed.  Tales from Norfolk Island filtered back to the England and the colony was eventually abandoned in 1855. Arthur

After the closure of Norfolk Island, offenders were sent to the southern tip of Tasmania, to a colony called Port Arthur.

Prison reformers back in Britain wanted to experiment with new forms of punishment. The centrepiece of the new institution was the Model Prison.

The idea was to replace flogging and corporal punishment with complete sensory deprivation, which would break their spirit and turn them into good citizens. The guards wore slippers and carpets in the hallways deadened all sounds. When the convicts were allowed out of their cells, they were made to wear masks to they couldn’t recognise one another. There was very little verbal communication.

If you’re going to escape from prison, Australia’s hardly the easiest place to hitch a ride home from. Nonetheless, theres some incredible tales of the few who made a break for it.

John Donahue And The Bushrangers

Bushrangers are seen as heroes in Australia, representing rebellion and and triumph over authority. The most celebrated bushranger of them all was John Donahue, a young Dubliner who was sentenced to transportation for life in 1823.

After his escape he roamed the bush, besieging the settlers and living off a life of plunger. He used to hang out in the caves near Picton.

John Donahue was eventually shot dead in 1830 by a policeman and his tale is immortalised in the Ballad of Bold Jack, banned at the time as a treason song.

Sarah Island

The penal colony at Sarah Island was meant to have been impossible to escape from. More than 180 escape attempts are known to have been made but few were successful: most escapees perished in the rainforest and many returned voluntarily after a few days.

Some did make it. Alexander Pearce escaped Sarah Island twice, and only survived by eating his companions. He later told his companions that he preferred human flesh to normal food.

Another great tale is of the convicts who stole the Cyprus, a supply vessel carrying a group of convicts to Macquarie Harbour. They seized the vessel on route, dumped the officers and crew on shore and sailed off to Japan where they pretended to be ship wrecked British mariners. They were sent all the way back to Britain as poor starving shipwrecked sailors. Unfortunately one of them was strolling through London town when who should he meet but the ex-police constable from Hobart town who recognised his tattoos.

William_BuckleyWilliam Buckley

William Buckley escaped from Sorrento in Victoria in 1803. He spent 30 years living with the aborigines and wore a long beard and kangaroo skins. When he returned to civilisation he had completely forgot the English language and had to learn to speak again. He was completely pardoned and became a respected civil servant.