Irish On The Gold Fields

The concept of the great land down-under was already well known to many Irish men and women  by the middle of the 19th century.  Australia represented different things to different people, to those struggling to feed themselves is could mean a place to forge a new life in freedom. To others who were caught up in the harsh judicial system for stealing even a crust of bread to feed the family it meant exile to the far away penal colony, transportation .


Between 1851 and 1860 roughly 101,540  Irish came to Australia, mainly struck with gold fever. Most of the early gold found was alluvial,  so the fact that the Irish had little to no mining skills, was not a  problem.  Once the  alluvial gold ran out, many of the Irish  worked as unskilled labour for the  reef  mining operators, or went into other  professions available in colonial life. The diggers' needs meant there was a lot of available  and often very profitable work, either working for or becoming  brewers, cartage operators, grocers, publicans  or even policemen, with many women becoming domestic workers, and general labourers. Many of the Irish enjoyed a much higher standard of living than they had left behind in Ireland.

The Irish immigrants had an infectious colourful sense of humour, which they used to ease their daily grind. Many were staunch Catholics, others flamboyant and politically active. The leader of the Eureka stockade of 1854, Peter Lalor was Irish, as were nearly half of the diggers who took part. 

The legacy of the Irish who migrated to Australia is diverse, and they played an important part in Australian history.

Further Reading