My directed study is coming along well, but I still have a lot of work to do revising my report and creating my site maps. I consider myself fortunate this semester in that my two research projects complement each other geographically, historically and methodologically; I have learnt a great deal more about the Mitcham area than what I thought at the beginning of the semester.
For this post, I thought that I might share with you some information regarding wages and working conditions for labourers in the mid-nineteenth century, and how this information compliments one of my research topics.
Christine Bender and Susan Piddock state in their chapter of ‘Valleys of Stone’ that in 1851, there were approximately 1,500 unemployed men living in Adelaide. This spell of unemployment was broken with the discovery of gold in Victoria, as men were drawn to the Victorian goldfields with the hopes of striking it rich. This absence of labour created a worker shortage, and as a result, wages soared (2006: 35). By 1853 labourers were earning 9 shillings a day which was twice as much as what they earnt in 1851 (2006: 36).
Samuel Saunders, the original owner of the sections of land that make up Randell Park today, arrived in South Australia in 1850. By 1854, he was a partner in a quarrying operation , he had purchased a section of land and he had built his house on that piece of land. He eventually ended up running his own business using the stone that he quarried from his own land, as well as constructing bridges that are still standing today, one of which is heritage listed. It appears that Saunders’ story is a classic European settler story, in that he achieved all of this from years of hard work and sacrifice.
However, when placed in the historical context outlined above, his story can be viewed through a new perspective. I am not saying that Saunders coasted through life on a lucky break, but the point that I am trying to make is that when two pieces of information complement one another, it allows us to view those pieces of information from a different perspective and gives the story so much more texture. I have found this to be one of the best aspects of historical and archival research.