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Steam power, Crystal Palace, war and adventure: the world in the 1850s

August 8, 2018 11:28PM Kids News

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A painting of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert in the 1800s. Picture: The Royal Collection at Windsor media_cameraA painting of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert in the 1800s. Picture: The Royal Collection at Windsor

gold rush

Reading level: green

The beginning of the Australian Gold Rush in 1851 was a time of huge change around the world.

There were wars and revolutions*, amazing inventions and mass migration* as people travelled around the world to seek a better life.

– Victoria was Queen of the UK and of Australia from 1836 until she died on January 22, 1901.

Queen Victoria's children media_cameraQueen Victoria’s children Princess Victoria and Princess Alice in the 1850s.

– A civil war* in China called the Taiping Rebellion changed China forever and was a time of upheaval* and danger. It went from 1850 to 1864 and was a fight between old traditions and religions and people who wanted China to become a Christian country.

– The Public Libraries Act was passed by British parliament in 1850, giving many British people the chance to read books and learn about the rest of the world for the first time.

– Steam was beginning to be used to power ships rather than just sails and the wind, making travel times to far-off lands faster and more predictable*.

The Advertiser Library media_cameraA drawing of the steam ship SS Admella, which was typical of steamships of the 1850s. It was wrecked off the coast of South Australia on August 6, 1859.

– The Great Exhibition took place in London in 1851 to show off the world’s new inventions (including the first public toilets) and other mass-produced* things made possible by the industrial revolution*. It was held in the extraordinary Crystal Palace and six million people visited.

Supplied Editorial Artist's image of the Crystal Palace in London when it opened in  1851. News Archives media_cameraA drawing of the Crystal Palace, London, UK, which was built for The Great Exhibition in 1851.

– At New York’s World Fair in 1854, Elisha Graves Otis showed off his new invention, the safety elevator, with a brake to stop the lift falling if it fails. Tall buildings instantly became more practical.

– Many people became sick and died in London in 1854 from an outbreak of cholera* and John Snow discovered it was passed through the water supply.

– The Crimean War was fought between many European countries from 1853 to 1856.

media_cameraVictorian volunteers in the Crimean War.

– Big Ben, the clock tower at Westminster in London, chimed for the first time on May 31, 1859.

– Rabbits were brought to Australia in 1859 to provide meat and later for hunting. They multiplied quickly to plague* proportions*, which led to environmental disaster.

Rabbits at watering hole during SA rabbit plague 1935. 1930s historical  /Rabbits media_cameraRabbits at a watering hole in South Australia during the 1935 rabbit plague.

– Australia’s population grew quickly during the Gold Rush, which meant Australian farmers had a growing market within Australia for food and wool. Crop farming of wheat and other grains became much more efficient with the Australian invention of the mechanical harvester called Ridley’s Stripper.

Historian Charles Darwin (1809-1882), responsible for evolution theory 'Origin of Species'. media_cameraCharles Darwin (1809-1882), author of On the Origin of Species (1859), which explains his theory of evolution.

– Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of the Species, which explained his theory of evolution*.

– In the 1850s, people spent their spare time in dance halls, theatres and at the horse races.


Gold finds kept secret before the Rush

And just like that, the Rush is on!



  • revolutions: sudden and big changes, particularly to who is in power
  • migration: moving from one place to another
  • civil war: a war between two groups of people in the one country
  • upheaval: a big or sudden change
  • predictable: able to be predicted
  • mass-produced: made in huge numbers by machines
  • Industrial Revolution: From 1760 to about 1840, when machines replaced people to do lots of jobs
  • cholera: bacterial infection that causes diarrhoea
  • plague: an unusually large number of animals or insects
  • proportions: size
  • evolution: gradual development or change to suit the environment


For 25 classroom activities on this story and much more, go to to purchase the Gold Rush workbook for $20 inc GST.


  • National Museum of Australia,
  • National Library of Australia,
  • State Library Victoria,
  • State Library of NSW,
  • SBS,
  • KidCyber,
  • Growing up on the Australian Goldfields by Kimberley Webber,
  • Sovereign Hill, and

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