What is it about gold that has fascinated man throughout time?
Mark Twain once said, “Genius, like gold and precious stones, is chiefly prized because of its rarity.” He might well have been right.
But the lure of gold is as contagious as any other fever, even though only a few have ever struck it rich. Most have only experienced hardship and heartbreak.
Around the world, the largest gold strikes have been in Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Russia, and the United States. The one in Australia in New South Wales began in 1851 and continued for the next 50 years.
Hard to believe but gold rushes were happening as far back as the days of the Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt. By the 18th and 19th century, they helped spur immigration, leading to permanent settlement of new regions.
On the North American continent, gold fever ran rampant after James W. Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator, found gold on Sutter’s Creek on January 24, 1848. This discovery set off the California Gold Rush. But invariably any gold rush has a relatively short life span, and when it begins to draw to a close, prospectors seek more adventure and gold prospects elsewhere.
Once the California Gold Rush petered out and an economic depression set in, many people began to head north, having heard of gold strikes in what was then New Caledonia (now British Canada) in Canada. In 1858, steamers full of miners eager to “strike it rich” headed north to Victoria, a small English village of less than 500 people. Overnight, the “village” transformed into a tent city of over 30,000 people, among them 4,000 Chinese.
The miners headed to the Fraser River where the first major gold find was at Hill’s Bar, south of Fort Yale. Some made small fortunes while others merely suffered from mosquito bites! The Fraser Valley was notorious for them.
The next major gold rush in British Columbia was in the Cariboo in 1861, which lasted until 1867. Between 1859 and 1869 there were also many minor gold rushes in places such as Similkameen, Peace River, Shuswap and Omineca, but the next major gold rush happened between 1896 and 1899 in the Klondike, labelled one of the last “great gold rushes” in Canada.
Here are some fun facts about gold mining and the eternal lure of the yellow metal:
Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he also said, “If everyone else is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”
The hero in my forthcoming historical saga Providence soon finds this to be true. The ones who made a fortune in gold rushes were usually the ones, like him, who let others chase the golden rainbow while they were simply content to sell them the tools, supplies and transport to get to the goldfields!
If you had lived in those times, would you have ventured to the goldfields? Were those who did incredibly brave or incredibly foolish?
Let me know what you think in a comment below.
On January 5, 1907, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London, England.
At the time, King Edward VII was reported to have said, “After my mother [Queen Victoria], she was the most remarkable woman in the kingdom.”
The baroness was born Angela Georgina Burdett, daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, who was the daughter of wealthy banker Thomas Coutts, founder of Coutts & Company.
In 1837, at the age of 23, Angela inherited her grandfather’s fortune of nearly two million pounds. She could easily have spent the rest of her life living in luxury, enjoying the pleasures and extravagances of the very rich. Instead, she chose to devote her life to helping others and spreading her fortune where it was needed the most.
Having befriended many notable people, such as Louisa Twining, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Dickens, and learning of the plight of orphans and the very poor in London, Angela used much of her wealth to help those causes.
She also became a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing churches and church schools around the word—in Africa, in Australia and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Her contributions to Victoria included donating money to help build Angela College on Burdett Street, a prestigious Anglican school for young women. Both the building and the street honor this woman today, even though, like Queen Victoria, she never visited the city.
In addition she donated money for the church bells in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, for cotton gins in Nigeria, and for drinking fountains for dogs in large cities. She assisted Turkish peasants and refugees of the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, organized housing schemes for the working class as well as giving money for the Ragged Schools Union, soup kitchens, and the Temperance Society in London. She also helped place hundreds of destitute boys on training ships for the navy and merchant service.
Speaking of ships, at Angela's instigation, vessels were sent out to British Columbia (the most notable in 1862 being the Tynemouth, known as the Bride Ship), which carried 60 women to the colony, where there was a great shortage of women at that time.
In 1871, Queen Victoria bestowed a peerage on Angela with the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate, and the following year, she became the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London. She also received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1874.
Although she had many suitors throughout her life, she refused all offers of marriage until she was 67 years old, when she shocked society by marrying her secretary, a young man of 30, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett, who was also a member of Parliament. In an unprecedented move, he changed his name to Burdett-Coutts after the marriage.
By the time Angela Burdett-Coutts died in December 1906 at the age of 92, she had given well over three million pounds to needy causes around the world.
The benevolent baroness makes a brief appearance in my forthcoming novel, Providence, as a motivator for my main character to set out from England for the new world on the SS Tynemouth.
For most married women in the 19th century, being pregnant was a frequent occurrence. They believed it was their duty to produce many children, so consequently, Victorian families were very large. Without benefit of any kind of birth control, babies “just came”—year after year.
In addition to being in a constant state of expectancy, childbirth itself was both painful and dangerous. Pain relief was minimal—maybe some opium or laudanum—but according to their religious beliefs, it was assumed that women were supposed to suffer in child birth.
Babies were always born at home. The mother was helped by family or female friends and sometimes an inexperienced midwife. Midwifery did not come into its own until much later. Doctors were only called at the last moment when it was feared the mother might die. If instruments were used for delivery, they were not sterilized.
Doctors were seldom trained in obstetrics. They didn't wash their hands—an obvious cause of infection, so when babies were not in the correct position and had to be turned either by hand or instrument, the mother experienced not only excessive pain but also bleeding and infection.
Infection and heavy bleeding were in fact the main causes of death for both mother and baby. Hardly any wonder that women approached childbirth (often described as “a woman’s time of trial”) with great fear. Nonetheless, it was deemed to be a normal course of events, and little thought was given to birth control until much later.
It was also believed that women were “unclean” after childbirth, so they were given the sacrament at the communion rail but only after post-childbirth bleeding had ended and women had been “churched.” The 1789 Book of Common Prayer celebrates women who survived childbirth in The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women.”
From the 1870s onward, a transition in fertility control was finally happening. With still no significant birth control in place, families were simply modifying their sexual activity, but by 1900, the size of families had certainly decreased to around four children, approximately half the number 20 or 30 years before. Numbers continued to fall in the first few decades of the 20th century.
In addition, pain relief in childbirth began to increase slowly toward the end of the century. Queen Victoria herself pioneered the use of chloroform for her eighth confinement in 1854, though its use was still opposed by many doctors.
Eventually a belief grew that many women’s lives could be saved if babies were delivered under more stringent medical conditions in hospitals, but this did not fully happen until the 1940s when it became more common for babies to be born in hospitals rather than at home.
Here are some additional facts about childbirth throughout the years:
In today’s world, women have many more childbirth options, including deliveries at hospitals or at home, and second vaginal births after a C-section, gentle "C-section,” and epidural births.
Thank goodness childbirth has come a long way since the 19th century!
Ladies, do you have a delivery experience that was out of the ordinary? Let me know in a comment below.
It isn't a surprise that in the 19th century, health standards were much lower than they are today. Life expectancy in 1850 was only 40 years old.
People rarely went to the hospital, and very few home remedies really worked. Laudanum (a tincture of opium) was used for severe pain, but other drugs such as aspirin did not appear on the market until 1899.
Surgical procedures were often performed in the home under less-than-hygienic conditions. A strong shot of whisky or a rag wrapped in ether were used as anesthetics. Later, chloroform became the anesthetic of choice.
From advertisements in local newspapers, I discovered a few so-called “cures” offered by medicine men who roamed the streets in the Victorian era selling their wares to the unsuspecting:
Since the earliest days of the Fort in Victoria, BC, a plethora of these medicine men drifted in and out of town, advertising themselves as doctors but having little or no medical skill. Most were soon found to be imposters, earning them the title of “quack.”
By contrast, the professional doctor was a much-respected man, despite having few genuine cures at his disposal. He would make home calls only if someone was very sick. Most people could not afford medical attention, and if a doctor was called out, he knew that he would probably not be paid. As a result, many people turned to those “medicine men” who roamed the streets selling their wares and offering cures for “all that ails you—from hangnails to falling hair.”
Well-established doctors in Victoria such as Dr. John Helmcken were incensed by these imposters and the “quackery” they practiced.
By the time the 19th century drew to a close, a group of established Victoria physicians (Helmcken, Fraser, Hannington, Holden, Carter, Milne, Robertson and Hall) had formed a medical association to finally regulate the profession and give it the respect it deserved.
But many people still died far too young.
Women frequently died in childbirth, and people continued to expire from such simple ailments as the common cold turning to pneumonia, infections, or malnutrition over a long period.
Coroners’ reports written between 1865 and 1937 reveal many other strange causes of death, such as “poisoning while in a state of insanity” or “shooting while temporarily insane.”
I also discovered that two men in 1872 died after eating poisonous mushrooms, and two others lost their lives to a knife cut and a gunshot wound, respectively. Many committed suicide or were listed as having died from shock.
One person was attacked by bears in 1873, and another died from a rock falling on him! The following year, one man “took an overdose of a drug used for sun stroke”—perhaps sold to him by one of Victoria’s street medicine men.
Railway workers’ deaths were also numerous, especially among the Chinese population, and many inquests were held after such tragedies as the explosion on board the steamship Queen of the Pacific in 1886, the Point Ellice Bridge collapse in 1896, and the collision between freight and passenger trains on the BC Electric Railway in 1909.
So, even though we might complain about today’s medical plans, if you live in Canada and become sick, aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century?
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.