Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Life on the goldfields

'For the last 4 months I have been alone but there are so many murders around and I feel very timid of nights. Last night a great black dog came rushing in my tent tearing the door open, you may guess how I felt', wrote Jane Foreman from the Victorian goldfields in February 1858 to her parents-in-law back in the village of Cranbrook, Kent.

Jane had been on the goldfields since 1855 with her young husband Charles and brother Edwin. She had an infant son, Willy, but he was soon to die, leaving her hollow with grief. While the men were on the diggings Jane had a small market garden alongside her tent and also kept a pig. Charles and Jane's letters home were highly descriptive of their working and social lives.

Charles wrote in detail of the business of extracting gold; Jane described her domestic life and the often surprising social life they enjoyed. 'New years day I went with 3 friends to Newbridge races about 20 miles from here and we did not start until one o'clock, got back at sun set, what do you think of that for travelling, we drove 10 miles an hour, we were very flash', wrote Jane. Both described some of the violent crimes that took place around them. While Charles was optimistic, Jane often confided her anxieties about their enterprise and her difficulties adjusting to the climate and the harshness.

After ten years they abandoned gold-seeking to become successful shopkeepers and postmasters in Mt Egerton with Edwin and his wife; each couple had a brood of children, a carriage and apparent contentment. Seventy letters tell their story.

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