If you’re interested in the history and people of early Ballarat, then we’d like to introduce you to a classic research resource, written by journalist WB Withers.

William Bramwell Withers was born in England in 1823. He came to Melbourne in 1852 and, after a brief visit to the goldfields, became a reporter for Melbourne’s Argus newspaper. In 1855 he moved to Ballarat to dig for gold, and later started writing for the Ballarat Courier.

Apart from his journalism, Withers wrote novels and a book of Ballarat reminiscences. However he became most famous for his History of Ballarat: from the first pastoral settlement to the present time, published in Ballarat in 1870. (A second revised edition was published in 1887).

A lithograph from 1854 showing the main road in Ballarat.

Detail showing the main road of Ballarat in 1854,
from [Scenes from Ballarat, 1852-1855], H8742

The History’s chapters on the Eureka Stockade and the effects of the gold rush are fantastic resources for family and local historians who want to understand these important events. Withers also includes many details about the development of Ballarat, discussing local businesses, public institutions, mines and churches. Importantly for genealogists and biographers, he mentions many influential townspeople.

You can find a 1980 reprint of the expanded 1887 edition, or a 1999 reprint of the 1870 edition on the shelves of the Library’s La Trobe Reading Room. Each includes an index to help you find mentions of different topics, places and people. For example, the index in the 1999 reprint points to information on the Red Lion brewery, Caledonian Society, Chinese doctors, Ballarat Library and the local synagogue.

We also hold a separate name and subject index to the 1887 edition, which seems to include more detail (in particular, more names) than the index for the 1980 reprint. The index of the 1980 reprint also seems to include several errors. That said, either index will be a useful starting point for your research.

Written by Kent Ball
Librarian, Australian History & Literature Team

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