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The Families Left Behind

November 10, 1854 — The Hall, Castlemaine, Australia


Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, a cup of tea is always exceedingly pleasant and refreshing, and the one which I have been invited to partake of this evening, is particularly agreeable to me. I can assure you that I am deeply grateful for it. I am sure you would not have been here this evening I what I have done had not met with your approval, and I hope that what I shall yet do, may receive your support. Those whose domestic duty it is to get a cup of tea ready — as we ladies of the colony have to do — know the troubles and difficulties which such an undertaking involves — and my friend Mr. Hitchcock in preparing the one of which we have just partaken, seems, from the explanation eh ahs given to have encountered his his share.

It is, my friends, a glorious thing to live in a country and amidst a people who will not allow slander of any kind on account of religion, who will have nothing but open truth. If I could not stand a little sifting, I should not have come to the diggings. My character is precious and valuable to me; I hope it is even more so unto my children; and I attach some importance to it as being of some value to you. And if I am jealous of my reputation it is because I feel that without character I cannot possess public confidence, and without public confidence I cannot effect any public good. Thus the sifting which I have had is a safeguard and protection, and keeps from me those who would be advocates only in words. Moneymaking is no part of my business. If it was, I believe I could make a fortune in many ways. During my present trip, I learnt many little ways for making money for others, but saw nothing suitable for myself. I feel there is a certain amount of work for me to do, and that I must go on, entertaining not the slightest dread for the future. Some say that I have not been sending a sufficient number of good persons to the colonies. I should like to ask those objectors if they ever did anything to help me? No, you will not find among the grumblers the workers. I know that from experience.

It is, however, right that I should explain to you why I am here. During my fourteen years’ labour I have gained among a certain class a reputation for speaking truth. I may err in judgment but not in intention. Numbers are constantly applying to me for advice, but I never seek to lead them upon the opinions of others: the rule I have always observed has been, never to go by what I hear, but to judge only from what I see. Consequently when many persons in Melbourne were inquiring of me, “Shall I go to the diggings?” “Would you advise me to go up the country?” I feel the responsibility of my position, as, if I advised them to go, and anything went wrong with them, they would blame me. My reply has invariably been, “As soon as I can make arrangement, I shall go to the diggings, and then I will tell you.” I have delayed this for some time, thought I have been under a promise, made in England, to visit the diggings.

The mission I am on is a sacred one. I have promised parents to go in search of their children — I have promised wives to make inquiries for their husbands — I have promised sisters to seek their brothers, and friends to look for friends — and oh! Let me ask and implore you who have left friends at home, if you have been neglectful of your first duty, if, in your lust for gold, or in the pursuit of business, you have not written to those you have left behind, to home home this night and do your duty. Let them, too, taste of the fruits of your labors. They might be in need of your assistance. You may have left them in comfort and security, and do not think of the change that may have occurred. For they are liable to change when the strong arm that has been their natural support is withdrawn from them. Whatever their condition they must be anxious to hear from you, to know whether you are alive or not.

In a first journey like this, it is impossible to make all the arrangements that are contemplated. Still a great deal may be done — much good may be effected with present means, and if it is attempted, you will not only have me in Castlemaine again, but again and again. I shall look for you to work your own district well, and act in union with others. I shall then have a great number of agents to help me in carrying out my objects.

The husbands who have left their wives at home, will find that I shall follow them. There are many of them about the diggings. The other day, as I was passing along, a digger whom I approached gave a sudden start, and said, “That’s Mrs. Chisholm!” I acknowledged my identity. “Oh,” he said, “I never thought of sending for my wife until I saw you.” Now for two years had that man been been digging at Castlemaine — dig, dig, digging, and yet, as he assured me, had never thought of sending for his wife until he saw me. There is a great number like him — equally forgetful. Now, with me as a reminder, with two or three gentlemen in Castlemaine working with me, and co-operating with a committee in England, we should soon find out these careless husbands. Will you do all you can to help me? I am sure the females will. I think the married men will. If the single men do not help me, I will not help them.

When I was in New South Wales, I thought nothing of a journey of 100 miles. I knew that I could depend upon the hospitality of the people on the line of road, to meet any want on the part of myself and the persons with me. But I was afraid, when some persons proposed to accompany me on the present occasion, that we should not meet with accommodation on the road. There is a great difference between buying a cart at fifty guineas and getting one at eleven guineas; and I had to wait till I could make things convenient. I had a pair of horses lent to me, and started on my journey.

At a public party a few days before, I met his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor. He had been informed of my intended visit to the goldfields, expressed a great desire that I should start without delay, and said he was exceedingly anxious to hear what I thought of them. My mission was known to be a domestic one; still, when I was leaving, two or three officials furnished me with letters of introduction; I had, besides, a kind of general letter, in which, in the event of my requiring any assistance, the officials on the goldfields were requested to pay me the necessary attention. Well, I did get into trouble. I broke my shat. I made use of the note, and the escort cart was lent to me until my own was repaired. I did not find it necessary to use my letters of introduction; for, to use the expression of my friend, Mr. Hitchcock, my object was to ‘sift’ the diggings, to look into the domestic wants of the diggers, and see what could be done to provide them with comfortable, happy homes.

We have been told that the health of the Queen was drunk in this hall with ‘nine times nine and one cheer more;’ but what a cheer would the diggers give if the homes they go to at night were something better tan the blankets under which they have to creep like dogs. Give them good homes, and if the Russians came tomorrow, the diggers would all turn out and fight in their defence like men. No man knows the strength of his arm until he raises it to defend his wife or protect his children. I was told at Bendigo that if I stayed a little while there, I should receive a large number of diggers’ grievances. That is not a part of my mission. I am looking after their rights; they will have an expensive commission to redress their grievances. Numbers have complained to me very grievously of many things which they feel to press on them heavily; but I do not feel much sympathy or much pity for any body of men who pay so little respect to their own sex as to live without wives when they can so well afford to maintain them. If I had power to do so, I would relieve of taxes all the married men, and give a bounty on all the women and children introduced into the diggers’ districts.

The diggers have great grievances, but they are not competent to decide upon the remedy. It is impossible for them to act with discretion and judgment huddled together, as they are, in fifties, listening to the evil agitator. It will be when they are really at home, with their wives and families — when they live in peace and quietness, that they will be best able to tell what they want. Then, when they can take care of the inside of their homes, and feel that the outside is protected by police, no longer regarded as an evil, their influence will be legitimately exercised.

The difficulties that impede the reunion of wives with their husbands have been much exaggerated by the men themselves. I know a case in which a man, writing home to his wife, and sending her no money, said he had met with an accident — that a tree had fallen upon him and broken his leg. Another letter narrated another fracture, and in the course of one day I have seen five different letters, each alleging fractured limbs, and written by men who, unlike the man who never thought about his wife, were thinking how to excuse themselves for not sending their partners any money.

Now I do not think so much of this would happen if the diggers had any place where they might safely deposit their gold. I think it would be a very good thing if savings banks could be established here. It might easily be done. I have no doubt that we should hear of sons sending to parents, and husbands to wives, much more frequently than at present, if they could save their money. I think that some institution of the nature of a savings bank could be attached to the Gold Commissioners’ departments. There is another point, too, on which, I think, the services of the Commissioners could be made useful — that is, in giving information to people who wish to purchase lands in their respective districts. I should be glad if any gentleman would aid me in carrying this latter point out. Great good would result form it. I am constantly applied to by men with families, and perhaps £200 or £300 in cash, who want to get on land of their own. To such men the opportunity of applying to the Commissioners, and obtaining the knowledge they require, would be a great advantage.

With reference to the introduction of females here — unless the ladies of the district will come forward and co-operate in protecting those who are sent here, so that those who are good may be saved from becoming bad, it will be useless to attempt it. If you wish to prosper in this district you must encourage population; and take advantage of the present time, for it will be long before there will be a better. Wagers are higher in England, and fewer people are coming out; and the love of land is so strong among those you have here, that if you do not speedily find some for them, they will dig your gold and carry it away. I know many girls get into difficulties through being discharged from one place before they have another to go to. They seek temporary lodgings, are exposed to temptations, and generally the more innocent the girl the sooner she falls. I shall be happy to do what I can to send girls here when I know that the ladies of Castlemaine are ready to perform their part.

Taking the general character of the diggers of this place, I believe that anything like ordinary care and supervision over females who may arrive here, would result in good. Where there is one man among them who would annoy a respectable female, there will be found ten to protect her. But there must be a Home, found in the spirit of true Christian liberty that we all love and venerated. If, then, you will, in your district, found such a home, I will do all I can to fill it. I mention this will especial reference to wives and families.

I have been informed that in this district alone there are £70,000 deposited with government, being the property of diggers; so that there does appear to be a sort of savings bank here already. But the money is yielding no interest — that would keep me awake all night!  It belongs to working men, and ought to be worked. Government may well be short of money. I hope some of this large amount will be soon withdrawn by the working men who have placed it thee, and their wives sent for. In the meantime, let them know where they may obtain lands to settle and build their own cottages on — that is an object I will arrange and and forward to the utmost of my power. Just as I would endeavour to procure for you a supply of female servants to lead them into marriage, so I recommend men to dig for gold, wherewith to purchase lands and settle.

(A communication was here made to Mrs. Chisholm by Mr. Hitchcock.) I have much satisfaction in telling you that it is intended to establish, in Castlemaine, a branch of the Melbourne savings bank.



Source: The Mount Alexander Mail (Castlemaine), 10 November 1854, p. 3.


Also: Stirring Australian Speeches: The Definitive Collection from Botany to Bali. ed. Michael Cathcart and Kate Darian-Smith (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press), 2004, pp. 33-37.