A new display highlighting Bendigo’s early history has recently been opened in Bendigo Art Gallery’s oldest room – Bolton Court.
In the early 1850s the allure of gold brought many new emigrants from the bustling colony of Melbourne to the dusty, scrubby haze of Sandhurst (now Bendigo). For such new colonists, the Bendigo gold rush offered life-changing opportunities. However, not everyone struck gold, and life on the makeshift goldfields was harsh. Diggers, living in canvas tents exposed to the elements, would spend from dusk to dawn in the dirt and – in contrast – those that did strike gold lived in largess – carving out lavish Victorian lifestyles amidst the dust and sludge of the diggings. This display of artworks and objects from the Gallery’s collection reflects the early makings of a town built on the heady hopes and European aspirations of nineteenth-century colonists.
The display includes works by many of the most celebrated artists of the goldfields such as Samuel Thomas Gill, Thomas Wright, William Vahland and George Rowe. One of the highlights is undoubtedly the astounding photo-montage of the early pioneers of Bendigo which includes many of the significant men – no women unfortunately – of early Bendigo: 1851 to 1860. The quartz king, George Lansell, presides over the men of Bendigo from the very centre of the montage. The work was commissioned by Richard Walker and collated (and many images retouched and reproduced) by H Hansen’s photographic studio on Mitchell Street. The original montage was given by Walker to Mr WDC Denovan who immediately donated it to the Gallery. At this time it was also registered with the patents’ office with copies offered to other institutions.
Also featured within the display are items of local significance such as the censers, or incense burners, from George Lansell’s home Fortuna; nineteenth-century jewellery made from Bendigo gold, Vahland’s design for the Cascades in Rosalind Park and C Douglas Richardson’s original maquette for the monument commemorating the discovery of gold in Bendigo (located on Pall Mall at the end of Bull Street) which was unveiled in 1906.
The Gallery is open daily and entry to the permanent collection is by donation. The Gallery’s volunteer guides offer a free guided tour of the collection every day at 11am and 2pm.