The discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 resulted in dramatic and rapid social, economic and cultural change in the colony. During the years of the gold rushes (from 1851 until the late 1860s), government was greatly concerned with how to maintain law and order amidst the chaos and upheaval. As an historical event, the gold rushes were a significant factor shaping the approach to child welfare in Victoria.
Children - 'neglected' children, abandoned children, criminal children - were the subject of much community concern during the gold rush eras.
Families were also impacted on greatly by the frenzied rush for gold. The term 'grass widows' was used during the gold rush years to describe a woman abandoned by a gold-seeking husband. They were also known as deserted wives.
The gold rushes were a critical factor in the establishment of many of the major institutions in Victoria, including the orphanages at Ballarat and Geelong, and the Melbourne Orphan Asylum.
Initially, the colony took a haphazard approach to dealing with children (including sending children to jails and benevolent asylums run by organisations like the Immigrants' Aid Society).
In 1864, the Victorian government introduced its first piece of legislation specifically relating to 'neglected' children and juvenile offenders, the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act.
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The Find & Connect Support Service can help people who lived in orphanages and children's institutions look for their records.
10 November 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000412
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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