The Scots who dug for gold Down Under

Diggers in New South Wales during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. Picture: Wikipedia

Diggers in New South Wales during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. Picture: Wikipedia

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The letter from home is as curt as it is sad.

Written by Janet Kincaid of Greenock sometime during the 1850s, it was sent to her husband after he left Scotland for Australia as word of the Gold Rush swept the world.

Memorial in Ballarat to James Scobie, the Scots gold digger murdered in 1854. Picture: Wikipedia

Memorial in Ballarat to James Scobie, the Scots gold digger murdered in 1854. Picture: Wikipedia

It is clear from the note that the mother-of-three had not heard from him since he left on a boat from the port town.

In fine cursive script of the day, Mrs Kincaid writes: “My dear husband, I got your address from your father. You sent him a letter to let him know that you was quite well and that you left the ship to better your family.

“We have had enough of that talk.

“You had better do something for them. You left the ship to better yourself. And to get your own money to yourself. You never cared much for your family, far less for your wife.

Painting of the Eureka Stockades which was triggered, in part, by the murder of digger James Scobie, from Auchterarder. Picture: Wikipedia

Painting of the Eureka Stockades which was triggered, in part, by the murder of digger James Scobie, from Auchterarder. Picture: Wikipedia

“I was asking the boys if they had any word to send. Bob says you owe him half a sixpence. Johnny wants a new pair of boots and poor wee Duncan doesn’t know what a sort of thing a father is. He thinks it is something for eating.

“If you wish to correspond with us,find out a proper place that I will send my letters.

Mrs Kincaid signs off the letter “your deserted wife”.

• READ MORE: The Scottish ‘radicals’ taken to Australia on convict ships

Mr Kincaid was not alone in his mission Down Under. Approximately 100,000 Scots arrived in Australia between 1850 and 1860, according to the Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia.

Although what happened to Mr Kincaid is unknown, several men went on to become significant figures during the Gold Rush years, some who paved the way for a new form of democracy and law reforms in the colony.

One of them was digger James Scobie, of Auchterarder, whose murder in 1854 was to spark riots amongst workers disenchanted with the colonial authority of the UK.

Scobie was killed aged 28 at the Bentley Hotel in the mining stronghold of Eureka, Ballarat, after knocking on the door looking for a late drink.

Publican James Bentley was charged in connection with the murder along with the hotel watchman, a clerk and a barman but all were acquitted.

The workers, already reeling amid punitive taxes and licence costs, revolted amid suspicion of a corrupt judiciary.

The episode is considered a catalyst to the Eureka Stockades, a battle against colonial forces by workers angered by unfair treatment, which is considered by some historians to be the birthplace of Australian democracy given that it widened the right to vote.

The battle lasted only half an hour but 27 men died, including John Robertson, a Scot, also believed to be from Perthshire.

As inquiries into Scobie’s murder reopened, publican Bentley was later sentenced to three years hard labour after new evidence emerged against him.

George Edward Thomson, of Coupar Angus, also became influential while in Australia as the vocal leader of the Red Ribbon movement, whose quiet rebellion over punitive licence fees also set the tone for the Eureka Stockades.

The trade union organisation mobolised 10,000 miners to peacefully protest against the 30 shilling mining licence fee, payable whether gold was found or not, which was introduced to try and stem the influx of workers from around the world.

• READ MORE: Australia to remove tributes to Scot who massacred Aboriginals

The Red Ribbon Agitation is also regarded as a crucial step towards democracy in early Victoria and led to changes in the way the colony was governed.

William Campbell, of Aberfoyle, Perthshire, discovered the first gold at Clunes, Victoria, in early 1850.

Campbell was to go on to become an influential politician and a strong voice in the separation movement.

However, he returned to London after a new tax regime hit the wealthiest landowners.

Also Among the Scots who abandoned their former lives to search for gold was a young baker from Kirkcaldy named William Arnott.

He left his mark on his new country not through gold - but biscuits.

Arnott worked his trade for three years after arriving in 1848 before deciding to seek his fortune panning on the Turon River.

He fared better at making bread and pies for fellow diggers and left the banks of the Turon to set up a small factory in Newcastle, New South Wales.

That was the beginning of the Arnott baking empire which still today produces Australia’s famous biscuit - the Tim Tam.

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