The rich goldfields of Victoria attracted thousands of migrants and prospectors from all corners of the globe, but they were not rich for everyone.

Edward W Bradley was a young American prospector who strongly believed that his hard work would pay off. He was living on credit, avoiding the lure of drink or depression, defending his honour, and yet reluctant to quit digging for his fortune.

His story is told through a collection of letters that offers an incredible insight into life on the goldfields, recently acquired by the Library’s Manuscript collection.

Although American prospectors are rarely discussed within the Victorian cultural psyche, it is known that they were an integral component of the Eureka Stockade. It is argued that ‘they (the Americans) operated behind the scenes and ‘pulled the strings’ of the rebellion with a view to establishing a republic in their own interest’[1].

pages of handwritten letters

Correspondence of Edward W. Bradley, 1853-1865 MS 16104

Edward W Bradley was perhaps less concerned about miner’s rights, and more with the accumulation of wealth, particularly his own. Born in Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts on 27 March, 1827, Edward was the son of wealthy real estate entrepreneur, Edward W Bradley Snr. Information gleaned from his first and only letter to his mother, suggests that Edward W Bradley Jnr had spent some time in the Californian goldfields.

It was inevitable then that he would board the ship Baltimore and arrive in 1853 Melbourne. Edward purchased a Gold Licence 2 August 1853, one day after the 30-metre-long Bendigo Petition was delivered to Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe.


Soon after purchasing his licence, Bradley delightfully describes life in the camps, and in particular the Bendigo site:

You may form some idea of the Bendigo by imagining a vast encampment of Tents scattered over a rough tract of Country some 8 miles square, the greatest portion of it being dug up, with roads running through the principal Gullies.

Much less crime is committed than you might suppose, there being more Robberies and Murders on the Roads than here. Every man has a Pistol in Bed, and if anyone is heard prowling round a tent at night he would be shot down without mercy. Some 2 or 3 cases only have occurred since my arrival. There are churches, libraries and sly grog shops, so that a man may have his choice in the way of amusement.

Fortunes without number have been made, and tis singular that they have been the least deserving of good luck, the great majority of them being drunkards and the worst kind of reprobates, who throw their money away as soon as got, while a steady hardworking man very seldom makes anything of a pile.

Melbourne 21 March 1854

After a brief and ultimately fruitless expedition to the diggings, Bradley confirms receiving a draft from his father. He complains about the tardiness of the money suggesting that if he ‘had the requisite funds’ he would have remained with his original party. In October he is still in Melbourne working for shipping agent, CL Throckmorton. He advises his father that:

A few days after my last he (Throckmorton) failed for £12,000 pounds stg., throwing me out of employment, as well as £40 of salary which I do not expect to recover.

Finding himself without employment, Bradley moves in with eminent Ballarat photographer, William Bardwell. 

Ballarat. November 8 1857

Three years later Bradley sends a letter from Ballarat to his father thanking him for funds sent. It is clear that Bradley is becoming desperate, he ‘cannot quit digging’ and muses that ‘tis surely much better to become initiated and submissive than to be always whining, and depressed in spirits.’ He believes that, ‘there is always a chance of making enough to pay for lost time. However, I have not yet done so.’ He is living on credit, and feels ‘considerably indebted’ to his colleagues and friends.

Ballarat. March 25 1865

Eight years since his last correspondence, Bradley thanks his father for further funds received. He bemoans that he had to walk some 20 miles in to town to claim the money. His claim is not proving, and two men working on his operation were blown up.

Daylesford. October 16 1865

Bradley receives a disheartening letter dated 12 July 1865. His father has been informed of his son’s profligacy and accuses Bradley of being a spendthrift, an accusation that he strongly rebukes:

I have not the slightest idea, who your well informed informer is, neither do I care, but this I do know, he is a Damned Liar. Whether I am a spendthrift of not, and whether money is of not good use to me or not, my associates will be the best judges. As to my character for Probity, Industry, Honesty and Solidity (I believe these include all manly qualities), I shall fearlessly leave my neighbours and friends to Judge.

handwritten letter

Correspondence of Edward W. Bradley, 1853-1865 MS 16104

No man can tell where the Gold is 100 feet under the surface, and I do not believe I can be justly reproached, while I work hard for, but did not get it.

In future my letters will not be so frequent as they have been, and I shall never again enter into any particulars of my mining life and prospects.

Daylesford. November 22 1865

Bradley thanks his father for sending another draft. After briefly defending himself further from previous accusations, he asks his father for further credit.

Bradley departed Victoria sometime after 1868. He married Mary Gallaher on an undisclosed date and according to the 1880 United States Federal Census, he became a farmer. The census also indicates that he had a six-year-old son, Edward B Bradley. Edward W Bradley died 12 November 1880 in Jackson, Illinois.


[1] L. G. Churchward (2008) Americans and other foreigners at Eureka, Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand, 6:sup1, 43-49, DOI: 10.1080/10314614108595028

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Just by chance am reading Peter Fitzsimmons eureka very informative for that era

  2. Very interesting story, I am eager to learn more of this story. Is there a book for this?

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