Subscription Balls | State Library of New South Wales

Subscription Balls

Night concert, Ballarat, ca. 1854 by S.T. Gill, Watercolour, DGV*SP COLL. GILL 17

A ball or concert such as those depicted by artist, S.T. Gill, were seen as exciting events on the goldfields. These occassions were an excuse to enjoy and display new found wealth. Subscription balls were often held to raise money for the local hospital or fire brigade. There were expectations from those attending that there would be good food, an orchestra and an opportunity to wear their best clothes.

Subscription ball by S.T. Gill

The First Subscription Ball, Ballarat, 1854, by S.T. Gill, Watercolour, DGV*SPEC COLL.GILL 19

English author and visitor to the gold diggings, Elizabeth Ramsay-Laye visited a ball at Barker’s Creek, near Castlemaine in Victoria. She and her husband joined friends and hired an omnibus which transported all the ladies comfortably, 'without tumbling or tossing their dresses about'. A large canvas house had been erected for a ball room, smaller tents for refreshments and ladies’ dressing rooms.

This ballroom surprised and impressed the English visitors. Elizabeth described it as being beautifully decorated with artificial flowers, the walls covered in pink and white calico and the pillars which supported the roof adorned with garlands intermixed with pink and white. She writes,

'the effect was charming. The adjoining tents were lit with Chinese lamps and fitted up quite luxuriously with carpets, divans and sofas. The band was excellent and dancing was kept up with great spirit until daylight.' Social life and manners in Australia : being the notes of eight years' experience by a resident, by Elizabeth Ramsay-Laye.