By Hugh Batters
Little known but fascinating pieces of Australian colonial history will be unearthed at the Antiques Fair Sydney in August. Extraordinary examples of 19th century gold jewellery from the most exquisitely intricate to the, well, positively ordinary’.
Australia’s gold rush created instant wealth for the lucky few but even in the 1800s money didn’t necessarily buy taste. Like modern rap artists with their ‘bling’, ostentatious displays of riches were very much a part of Victorian society and those who rose from rags to riches almost instantly. By 1853 the gold rush had created a growing market for prestige items including high quality firearms, horses and carriages and jewellery.
Around thirty jewellers and goldsmiths from Britain and Europe are known to have worked on the Victorian goldfields and major cities in the 1850s. They fashioned watch chains, cravat pins and heavy gold rings for the men – and brooches for their wives, sweethearts or simply female objects of desire. The most famous of these was Lola Montez who entertained men on the goldfields and major cities in 1855-56. Her stage performance included the infamous “Spider Dance” where she energetically proceeded to shake a spider from her skirts, the action ever more frantic and the skirts riding higher as diggers in the audience showered the stage with gold nuggets. She was later accused of lacking both morals and undergarments by the more genteel in the crowd. She was also gifted gold jewellery and a massive gold brooch featuring a shield containing the tools of the miners’ trade held by a Kangaroo and Emu. It was inscribed “Presented Melbourne Dec 28 1855 to Madame Lola Montez by her friends in Victoria as proof of their esteem”.
Another target of the diggers’ affections can be found in Caxon’s Comic songbook from Ballarat published in 1859 and featuring “The Flash Colonial Barmaid”:
‘She’s numbers of admirers who hang about the bar,
Fast storekeepers, flash Yankees, each trying to be thar,
One gives her a great big digger brooch with cradle, tubs and things,
Others, lockets, pencil cases, big colonial things…’
Indeed, there were intricate brooches featuring unusual designs. Finely hewn shovels, picks and gold pans, a five centimetre wide depiction of a miner hauling up a bucket of ore on a winch, his gold cradle framed by two shovels like a naïve coat of alms for the newly rich and respected.
Though wonderful examples still exist, they are extremely rare. Many have no doubt been melted down in times of hardship, or even sooner if the recipient was a Flash Barmaid. The majority of pieces now reside in museums and galleries, many of these sourced and supplied by our Guest Speaker, AAADA member, Trevor Hancock. Learn more at his talk ‘Australia’s Crown Jewels’ on Saturday 18 August, 12:30pm, at the AAADA Antiques Fair Sydney, where you can view examples of colonial gold rarities and hear all about their fascinating history. To secure your spot please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the AAADA Office on 0498 059 661. Please note you must have a valid entry ticket into the fair to attended the talk.
Fair tickets can be purchased online, or at the door. Buy your tickets online before the 13th of August and you will go into the draw to WIN $1,000 voucher to spend at the AAADA Antiques Fair Sydney and an hour with an Antiques Expert Personal Shopper. (All admission tickets purchased online are automatically entered. For eligibility check our terms and conditions.)
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AAADA ANTIQUES FAIR SYDNEY
16 – 19 August, 2018
White Bay Cruise Terminal
2041 James Craig Road
T 0498 059 661 E: email@example.com
View and buy items with confidence – the AAADA difference.