Eureka! Women and birthing on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s


Beechey, Desley. (2003). Eureka! Women and birthing on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s [Thesis].
AuthorsBeechey, Desley
Qualification nameMaster of Midwifery (Research) (MMidw(Res))

The Ballarat goldfields were a raucous, noisy, exhilarating place that was a tent home for thousands of men, women and children in the 1850s. The Ballarat goldrush and the Eureka Rebellion are among the most significant events in the history of Australia. They set the scene for this study titled Eureka! Women and birthing on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s. This qualitative study utilised and historical research method informed by a feminist perspective.
This account reveals the story of women’s lives and their birthing at this time as found in historical documents. These documents revealed that the women birthed in their tents with a female friend, relative or lay midwife present. Trained midwives were rare and doctors were too expensive for the majority of poor diggers with no guarantee they were genuine. While most women birthed safely the appalling conditions, infection and birth complications all contributed to high rates of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity.
This study has implications for both women and midwives. Hearing voices through this story of their lives and birthing will expand the understanding of issues specific to women. The sharing of the story of birthing in the 1850s will raise awareness of the connections between midwifery history and the twenty-first century giving midwives an appreciation of the past along with different perspectives and greater understanding of women and birthing so their midwifery practice in the future will be enhanced.

Keywordshistorical birthing; 1850s; midwifery; Ballarat; Australia
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine
Final version
Publication dates01 Jul 2003
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