19th Century BLING – Goldfields Jewellery at Eureka

Gold Jewellery 2

Hogarth, Erichsen & Co., c1854-1860, photo Trevor Hancock courtesy Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka

A new exhibition 19th Century BLING – Goldfields Jewellery will be on show at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E.) from Saturday April 16 to July 4, 2016, showcasing the impact of ‘unique designs on the socio political landscape of Australia and beyond’.

There will be an exciting program of workshops, lectures and educational offerings. The Google Cultural Institute site will also act as an international platform, promoting accessibility and providing an important educational resource.

The stylistic influences of world-class makers will be examined alongside pieces of historical international jewellery made from Australian gold by British and European emigré jewellers. They used emblems and design motifs that reflected their new homeland, including its flora and fauna.

One native of Copenhagen Conrad Erichsen and his business partner Julius Hogarth received a bronze medal for producing a gold brooch with a kangaroo and an Aboriginal carrying a spear.

Gold Jewellery 4

Maker Unknown (Sydney/Bathurst), circa 1853, photo by Trevor Hancock, courtesy Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka

Their studio in its brief incarnation 1855-1861 was appointed officially as the jeweller to the Governor of NSW Sir William Denison.

An exceptionally rare openwork Bush Brooch (c1854-1860) on show by their studio is one of ten only examples of their brooches known to still exist, the rest lost or likely melted down in days of hardship or still hidden in an attic trunk somewhere.

M.A.D.E. is partnering with the open-air museum and historical park Sovereign Hill situated in an early gold diggings area, as well as the Gold Museum in Ballarat to present part of the exhibition of extraordinary loan jewellery, artworks and associated materials and to develop a festival of events around the show.

Director Jane Smith said “This is an exciting collaboration to bring a little known and wonderful aspect of Australian goldfields history to a national and international audience. The design and manufacture of these pieces of jewellery and what they represent in terms of a new world order is extraordinary.” Jane Smith said.

Events and opportunities like this can often flush rare pieces back out into a new light.

Rare and significant pieces of ‘Goldfields’ jewellery will be displayed, including a Miner’s brooch Circa 1853 by an unknown jeweller from Sydney or Bathurst.

Gold Pendant

Maker Unknown, Sydney, circa 1853, photo Trevor Hancock, courtesy Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka

This is a significant early example of Australian Colonial jewellery, one of the nation’s first using mining motifs.

Many miners commissioned significant pieces designed to include the tools of their trade, including picks, pans, shovels, sledgehammers, buckets and spades.

Their wives and sweethearts showed off their husbands and admirers new status wearing what has since become known as ‘goldfield’s jewellery’ on their fashionable attire.

This indicates that already nationalistic pride was growing in Australia; a confidence in the abilities of those making the local product and their skills at craftsmanship.

They became a matter to be proud of and shown off at international exhibitions held in some of the world’s greatest capital cities.

Wonderful examples still exist and the ‘ aim of this exhibition is to highlight history and innovations in 19th century gold decorative arts design and manufacture in Australia as direct result of gold rushes and the migration of those styles nationally and internationally’.

Gold has been revered by all cultures on earth since the dawn of time, its intrinsic value, apparent indestructibility and ease for working into objects large and small, made this metal resembling the light of the sun, celebrated as a gift from the gods.

Long before it was ‘officially discovered’, early reports of there being Gold in Australia were suppressed to retain law and order in the colony.

Revered early gold and silver maker Alexander Dick has been attributed with making a button out of the ‘first gold found’, its owner hiding it away for as Governor Gipps reputedly wanted, ‘it might cause ‘throats to be cut’*

Edward Hargraves adventurer, may have thought so too when he became responsible for changing Australia’s history on one fine day when he panned for gold on Summer Hill Creek near Bathurst in NSW.

This happened early in 1851, and the results began raising the status of many of the so-called lower classes flocking to make their fortunes overnight.

Malachite & Gold Jewellery 3

Joachim Matthias Wendt, Adelaide (attributed), c1860, photo Trevor Hancock, courtesy Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka

They were elevated suddenly to newfound wealth, upsetting the social conventions of the day. Malachite featured in the work of several jewellers in Adelaide including Joachim Matthias Wendt, who around 1860 made a very fashionable pair of ear bobs surrounded by grapes, a symbol of plenty.

Discovering gold initially meant a temporary loss of labour from vineyards established in Australia but the consequent increase in population saw vineyards expand their operations to supply the demand from diggers.

Gold Jewellery 1

Charles E. Firnhaber, Adelaide (attributed), c1865, photo Trevor Hancock, courtesy Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka

By the end of the year, Gold had been discovered in Ballarat and Buninyong in Victoria. Fields at Fingal in Tasmania began in 1852 as well as Beaconsfield and at Lefroy.

At Ballarat in regional Victoria Eileen Kean writing to her daughter related how gold could be just found on the surface of the ground. This news echoed around the world and the Victorian population elevated from 178l.668 in 1851 to 749,825 in 1881.

Lola Montez Brooch

Maker Unknown, initialled PH, Watercolour on paper on card, Private Collection, courtesy Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka

There are many reports on record about the quality and appeal of Goldfields jewellery, fine examples of 19th century BLING.

One certainly stands out because of the story attached to it. It’s a presentation piece given to the woman hailed as the ‘Digger’s Darling’ Miss Lola Montez, a dancer, courtesan and lover to famous men in history.

The oval miniature has been rendered in watercolour on paper on card of Lola Montez after a famous image by Joseph Karl Stieler, painted in 1847 and hung in King Ludwig of Bavaria’s famous Rezsidenz in Munich alongside all the most beautiful women in his realm.

Lola was an all around colourful character, born in Limerick, Ireland, who caused heartache, notoriety and often riots wherever she went.

Coming to Australia via the Goldfields of California after fleeing from assaults, scandals and legal actions in London, she played to full houses in Adelaide, returning to a ‘rapturous welcome’ at Sydney in January 1856.

Opening at Ballarat on 16 February in a series of sketches, she was greeted by packed houses and consequently invited the miners to shower nuggets at her feet as she danced, causing the impresario’s wife to assault her.

Great fortunes were made in those heady days as miners overnight became millionaires, building grand houses, influencing the politics, commerce and society of their day.

The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) has gathered over 150 rare, fascinating and exquisite pieces for the exhibition, sourced largely from private collectors and family heirlooms.

Pieces have come from as far afield as California, South Africa, Alaska, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania. The catalogue of the exhibition will holds essays from many experts in the field, presenting new research, fresh ideas and stories with lavish illustrations.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka
19th Century BLING – Goldfields Jewellery

Saturday 16 April – Monday 4th July, 2016
102 Stawell Street South, Ballarat, Victoria 3350



*Australian Jewellery; Anne Schofield and Kevin Fahy 1990

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.