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VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA: Whitehead's Map of Victoria, with Alphabetical Key, 1869. Zoom

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA: Whitehead's Map of Victoria, with Alphabetical Key, 1869.


A historically important and highly detailed impression of Late Gold Rush Victoria, a rare early edition of Edward Whitehead’s authoritative map series, printed in Melbourne.

Author: WHITEHEAD & Co.
Place and Year: Melbourne: Printed & Published by E. Whitehead & Co, 67 Collins Street East, 1869.
Technique: Lithograph with full original hand colour, backed on original linen, folding into original cloth boards with gilt title (Very Good, minor loss to left blank margin not effecting printing, wear at old folds, cover lightly worn), 39 x 57 cm (15.5 x 22.5 inc
Code: 62561

This rare map of Victoria, printed in Melbourne, is an early edition of the important Whitehead map series of the colony, and depicts the region towards the end of the Gold Rush Era.  The map provides a richly detailed impression of Victoria, dividing the colony into counties and districts, many newly founded, each distinguished in their own full original colours.  Roads, railways and telegraph lines are marked, many of which radiate out of Melbourne, the era’s great boomtown of the British Empire.  Additionally, innumerable settlements are marked, many having sprung up during the Gold Rush.  

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the map is its extremely extensive recording of goldfields and diggings all across the Victorian interior.  Curiously, this particular example of the map features contemporary manuscript additions of “Xs”, which likely refer to “X marks the Spot,” likely being annotations by a country prospector staking out gold diggings.  The map also features numerous printed notes such as “country under water,” “thickly wooded country,” the “Electric Telegraph route, and Mail Road to Sydney”, and so forth.

The comprehensive index that borders the map lists literally hundreds of towns and settlements and designates those that feature postal stations and money order offices.  The map divides Victoria into 43 squares, which correspond the place names on the index.  The index also notes the distance between each settlement and Melbourne.

The Whitehead map series of Victoria, published in Melbourne, was one of the most popular and influential cartographic records of the colony’s development between 1867 and 1897.  Each issue provides a distinct, unique record, as each edition was extensively updated to reflect progressive stages of Victoria’s dramatic development.  The present 1869 edition is the one of the earliest editions and the last to capture the colony during the period of the Gold Rush proper.

Historical Context: The Victoria Gold Rush

Whitehead’s map of Victoria is an important record of region created towards the end of the Victoria Gold Rush (1851-1869).  This dramatic event not only transformed Victoria from a sleepy backwater into the pride of the British Empire, but it radically advanced Australia as whole and led to great improvements to the British economy.  In terms of the creation of wealth and the movement of people due to a mineral strike, the Victoria Gold Rich was second only to the California Gold Rush of 1848-55, with which it shares many similarities.

Prior to the publication of the strike of gold in Victoria in 1851, the region was remote and considered to be a relatively unpromising backwater of New South Wales.  The first enduring permanent European settlement in the region was founded at Portland on the western coast in 1834, followed in short order by Melbourne, on Port Phillip, in 1835.  The Port Phillip area, owing to its fine natural harbor and benevolent climate, soon attracted settlers and by 1840 Melbourne had a population of 10,000.

The strike of gold in 1851 caused an international sensation as thousands of Europeans flocked to the region in search of riches, either in gold itself or from profiting from the influx of people.  Anticipating great change, the British government agreed to the demands of settlers of the so-called Port Phillip District to ceded from New South Wales.  On July 1, 1851, the colony of Victoria was formally created.

The transformation was astounding.  Melbourne grew from having a population of 29,000 in 1851 to over 123,000 in 1854!  The population of Victoria grew from 75,000 in 1851 to 500,000 in 1861, and to around 700,000 by 1869.

Fittingly, the Victorian Gold Discovery Committee wrote in 1854:

“The discovery of the Victorian Goldfields has converted a remote dependency into a country of world wide fame; it has attracted a population, extraordinary in number, with unprecedented rapidity; it has enhanced the value of property to an enormous extent; it has made this the richest country in the world; and, in less than three years, it has done for this colony the work of an age, and made its impulses felt in the most distant regions of the earth.”

For several years the output of gold from Victoria exceeded that of every region of the world, save for California.  Victoria's greatest annual yield, in 1856, was 3,053,744 troy ounces.  The Victorian Mines Department would subsequently estimate that between 1851 and 1896, a total of 61,034,682 ounces of gold was mined in Victoria.

The gold finds had dramatic effect on the finances and the economy of the British Empire as a whole.  The gold exported to Britain in the 1850s allowed the Exchequer to fully pay down all of Britain’s foreign debt, including the enormous sums racked up fighting the Crimean War (1851-55) and various conflicts in India.   It also helped lay the foundation for great industrial expansion in Britain in the latter 19th Century.

In Victoria, many individual and corporations made vast fortunes not only in mining itself, but also in providing services and products to the rapidly expanding population, as well as from land speculation.  By 1869, Victoria was transitioning from the exciting, yet unstable, euphoria of Gold Rush fever into the comparatively sober environment of a more mature economy, underpinned by agriculture, trade, services and light industry.  That being said, mining and land speculation continued to play a prominent role.

The radical and continuous change to the landscape of Victoria necessitated frequently updated, accurate maps.  Government officials, property speculators, miners, settlers and engineers of infrastructure all urgently required breaking geographical intelligence.  Works such as the present map, based on the most authoritative sources, were highly valued and extensively used during their time.

Map Publishing in Melbourne during the 1850s and 1860s.

The present early edition of Whitehead’s map occupies an important place in the history of the print industry that flourished in Melbourne during the mid-19th Century.  Thomas Ham founded the first map publishing enterprise in Victoria in 1845 and the publication of his Map of Australia Felix (1847) was the first locally-produced map of the region.  This map became the basis for Ham’s Squatter’s Map of Victoria, published in eleven regularly updated versions until 1864. 

Not unlike the situation in San Francisco, the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 brought about a mass influx of people, wealth and talent that fostered a thriving local print industry as well as a unique and rich visual culture.  From 1856, several other mapmakers were established in Melbourne scene in effort to satiate the cartographic needs of prospectors and land speculators. 

Melbourne map publishers enjoyed a major inherent advantage over the established firms in London, such as James Wyld.  They had access to late breaking information and the most up to date surveys from both the provincial archives, as well as private sources such as mining and real estate concerns.  The Melbourne printers were able to expeditiously add critical new information to the updated versions of their maps, a process surely aided by their firsthand knowledge of the region.  By the time similar information reached London, months later, it was arduously incorporated into new editions of maps, yet by the time these maps were shipped to Australia, this ‘new’ information was, in many cases, already stale.  Thus, the comparatively rough and ready Melbourne printers often produced superior (ie. more accurate, current and useful) regional maps compared to those produced by the eminent London publishers.

Edward Whitehead founded the eponymous printing business at 67 Collins Street East in 1864.  While not focused on cartographic productions, Whitehead capitalized on the need for a highly detailed and accurate general map of Victoria that could be conveniently folded for travel.  The map was to feature an index of place names that was seen as highly important, as the vast majority of people in Victoria were new arrivals to the regions and were unfamiliar with the countryside, and the rapid proliferation of new place names caused great confusion.  Whitehead issued the first edition of his New Map of Victoria with Alphabetical Key in 1867. 

Whitehead’s Victoria map series became one of the most popular and financially successful regional maps produced in Australia, with regularly updated editions produced up to 1897.  That being said, due to heavy use in the field, all editions of Whitehead’s Victoria maps are now rare, with the early editions being especially so.

We note only 3 other examples of editions of Whitehead’s Victoria appearing at auction in the last generation, all of which are later issues than the present 1869 edition.  We have been able to locate only 4 institutional examples of the 1869 edition, at the National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria, State Library of New South Wales and the University of Queensland Library.

References: Robert Clancy, Mapping Terra Australis, p. 21; National Library of Australia: 7601085; OCLC: 220832660.