Inside The Mining Family. The Nineteenth Century

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 3
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1988
Life inside the mining family was regulated by the mine. The whistle shrieked the change of shift to the Cornish, Welsh and German miners digging the alien soil for copper at Burra in the 1840s and the deep quartz gold mines at Bendigo in the 1880s.During the golden years of alluvial mining in the 1850s, and later out on the frontier fields of Kalgoorlie and Jarrahdale in Western Australia, the lure of the mine dominated family life. How could it do anything else? The canvas tent, bark hut or weatherboard cottage in which the mining family lived close by the mine facilitated prompt access. The working man of the family attended to the demands of the mine first, and those of his family afterward. Who then organized and nurtured the mining family? The role of the mining wife was multi-fold. She played the traditional roles of home-maker and comforter, raising her children, tending her house and vegetable garden and supporting those friends and acquaintances who had lost children to disease, or menfolk to the mine. Epidemics of measles, the whooping cough or influenza carried away children in infancy or at too young an age. The death of a husband through accident or disease (pthisis was a likely killer) forced upon the mining wife another role, that of provider. When Elizabeth Vigus' husband died in a Bendigo mine accident in March 1880 Elizabeth set up a grocery business to support her young children.' But in other cases the mining wife supplemented the family earnings by part time work, not in the mines for the Mines Act legislation of 1842 forbade the working of women underground, but in auxilfiary occupations which were in demand.2 Ann Mitchell, a herbalist ,found plenty of work in the goldfield towns of Daylesford and Maldon in the 1860s and 1870s.3 So too did Susan Rule and her daughter Catherine who conducted a sewing and millinery establishment in Beechworth in the 1870s.4 The making of the family's clothes was another task of the mining wife and mother.Until the wonderful invention of the sewing machine, this was a tedious and time-consuming task. James Slater Edmonson bought his wife a Wertheim for the sum of 12 pounds in June 1886, just before leaving her and his chil- dren in the Adelaide suburb of Goodwood whilst he went alone to the goldfields of the West. In October of that year he wrote to Louise telling her how he missed the childrens' wondering "whether Slater wore my old shirt now. I always think of him as he sat on my knee at breakfast in that old shirt; and how pleasant it would be if I could rock both of them and sing as I used to do".5
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