Ballarat Petitions 1860-1866 VPRS 2500/P0

In the mid-1860s the brickmakers and carters in the neighbourhood of Mopoke Gully were not happy. They had carted three quarters of the bricks so far used in the building of Ballarat and now their businesses were constrained by the impassable state of the streets in their locality. The problem was sludge, a fine slurry of clay from the gold mining activities of sluicing and puddling, and it was particularly troublesome in that low-lying area near the Eastern Cricket Ground.

This was just one of an overwhelming percentage of petitions to the Ballarat Council calling for attention to the state of the streets. It seems that at least half of the more than 200 petitions in the time period related to the making of roads and footpaths and associated drainage works such as deepening culverts, improving channels, raising embankments and constructing bridges. The Council was called upon time and time again to ensure that conditions were improved so that the inhabitants could go about their business without the uncivilised inconvenience caused by sludge. Residents also voiced some opinions about the toll gates which would have provided revenue for road making. Some thought this was a double tax for ratepayers.

While Lydiard Street was the legal and financial centre of Ballarat, it was evident that Market Square in Doveton Street was the commercial hub during the 1860s. It was here that crowds assembled to sign the largest petitions to council from farmers, salesmen, produce merchants and others. The longest one with over 1000 signatures was an objection to a Council decision to build sheds in the centre of Sturt Street as a separate retail market for dairy and garden produce. The proposed relocation of the market caused a furore much like the present day one about the relocation of the Ballarat Saleyards. Other market issues included the improvement of facilities, the granting of agents' licences, the reduction of fees, closures on certain days and the opening of adjacent streets due to increasing business.

Meanwhile on the other side of town there was controversy at the Black Swamp. A few years later in the late 1860s its transformation into a vast expanse of clear water, newly named Lake Wendouree, was considered one of the greatest achievements of the Ballarat West Council.

During the 1860s all the land around the Swamp had been taken up for industry and private residences. This mixed use planning (or lack of it) resulted in conflicts about mining in the Swamp Reserve, reserving an acre of land at the Swamp Quarry for a public school and whether industries like the Tannery and Soap and Candle Manufactory were a nuisance.

In 1861 a group of concerned residents wrote requesting that Council 'will not water the streets with swamp water owing to the scarcity of the same'. Another in 1866 called for the clearance of the swamp on Lake Wendouree for boating pursuits.

As the popularity of the destination grew about 100 residents asked for a continuation of the road to the west end and another 50 or so asked for the road from the township to be extended to Lake Wendouree. Others petitioned for streets leading to the lake to be constructed. The residents of Wendouree Parade alerted the Council to the dangerous state of the approaches to their houses and called for the alteration of sludge channels, extra drains, and a footpath.

Benevolence was expected of councillors as shown by the 26 kind hearted souls who in 1861 signed a petition testifying to the impoverished circumstances of a widow and 'earnestly and respectfully' soliciting Council to grant her an exemption from paying her rates. There were several other expressions of compassion from neighbours for the authorities to remit the rates of widows and elderly people.

A longing for sounds of the home country and perhaps an indication of the secular nature of Ballarat was demonstrated by the petition for a public meeting of ratepayers to be held to consider obtaining a peal of bells for the Town Hall. Joan Hunt has commented in the Petitions Exhibition, which is on display at the Ballarat Archives Centre until the launch of the CD in August, that five years after this request was made, the Alfred Memorial Bells were purchased. They were installed in the new Town Hall tower and rung for the first time on Christmas Day 1871. Today Ballarat Town Hall is one of only four town halls in the world with a peal of bells.

One of the most unusual petitions sent to Council was one to close the cemetery. From the addresses of the signatories it was evident that they were talking about the Ballarat Old Cemetery. This request was made because a recently widowed man had visited the cemetery and found part of his wife's body exposed. It was thought that the sexton was being rather lax about the depth of coverage after burials especially in common ground where more would take place.



Signatures of petitioners to Ballarat Council

Petitions received by the Ballarat Council are in boxes of General Correspondence VPRS 2500/P0 at the Ballarat Archives Centre of the Public Record Office of Victoria. They were considered so interesting that a separate indexing project was undertaken by a team of volunteers from the Ballarat & District Genealogical Society over the last three years.

The degree of difficulty of this mammoth task was quite high as the names in the original documents were not neatly written by a trained clerk with the same ink pen. They were signatures and as such varied from painstaking attempts by barely literate people, to the scrawl and flourishes of busy professionals. One Irish girl named Mary gave her address as 'Den the Rud' (down the road). Unfortunately not all signatures were decipherable but the indexers did their best with reference to existing lists. On rare occasions mistakes appeared on a petition and occasionally there was a doubling of names or a retraction. Quite often the first signatures on a petition were those of notable dignitaries who would have been considered influential in whatever the cause.

We believe that the success rate in deciphering these signatures is high due to a combination of local knowledge and experience in interpreting the handwriting of long ago, as well as highly skilled proofreading. Sincere thanks must go to the following volunteers: Greta Bain, Gwenda Bayley, Jennifer Burrell, Kathleen McDonald, Margaret McKenna, Helen and Gill McLaughlin, Rene Rawson, Meryl Rowse, Betty Slater and coordinator Trina Jones, B&DGS Projects Officer, as well as other members who were involved for a short time.

Researchers will now have ready access to the names of the men, and a sprinkling of women, who were behind many ideas which shaped our city. We have readable lists of the names of the people who agitated for various works to be done. These 'movers and shakers' from many parts of the world approached the members of the municipal council in writing with their ever so politely worded requests and proposals to make Ballarat a better place to live.

From a genealogical point of view these documents, sometimes termed memorials, are of great interest because they were neighbourhood petitions founded on local knowledge. Even where addresses and occupations were not given most requests to Council place people in quite small localities. Proof that ancestors were residents of the Ballarat goldfields during these days of heady civic progress may not be found in any other records. It is for this reason that the indexing of petitions was considered to be very important.

Never again will it be necessary to handle the delicate pieces of paper, and in some cases parchment, which have survived in the archives for 140 years. As well as a database of just on 10 000 names, digital images have been made of the petitions by photographer and project manager Trina Jones. Researchers can now view the original documents on the CD with their full preambles and signatures as links from the surname database.

The Launch
Shauna Hicks of the Public Record Office of Victoria officially launched the Ballarat Petitions 1860-1866 CD on Wednesday 8th August 2007 at the Ballarat Archives Centre in the glasshouse on the corner of Mair and Doveton Streets.

CD cover Orders for the CD of Ballarat Petitions 1860-1866, ISBN 978-0-9751359-2-1, to Ballarat & District Genealogical Society Inc., PO Box 1809 Ballarat Mail Centre, Victoria, Australia 3354

Price per CD including GST is $AUD 30.00 plus $5.00 postage and packaging.
Email enquiries to

Jennifer Burrell
for Ballarat & District Genealogical Society



Created : 5 July 2007
Last Modified : 19 March 2010
Email :