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Halloween at Forest Creek, 1858

Posted 14/10/2022 in History

Back in 1858, at the world-renowned Forest Creek diggings, a group of Scottish puddlers held a Halloween Ball at the Red Hill Hotel in their traditional style of celebration!

According to their home-country fashion, the druidic festival was celebrated with supper, a varied program of dances, and light entertainments. 

The Halloween Ball was a great success, with about fifty couples attending and dancing well into the night!

How did Halloween come to be celebrated in the Victorian Goldfields?

Harpers New Monthly Magazine, vol. 81 (June-Nov 1890), page 831. Courtesy of the University of California.

The celebration of Halloween was brought to the goldfields of Victoria by Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 19th century. They also brought it to America, where it then evolved into the holiday it's widely known as today. 

Many of the American Halloween traditions, including fancy dress, trick or treating, and carving jack-o-lanterns, have their beginnings in the traditional Celtic celebrations of the holiday. 

The celtic origin of Halloween

Halloween has ancient roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which begins at sunset on the 31st of October. At this time of year the harvest is ending, nights are growing longer, and the boundary between the realms of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. 

Ghostly spirits could roam the earth, so fires were lit to ward off malicious spirits. Neep Lanterns were carved out of turnips, and candles were lit inside them to help ward off evil spirits. 

Families would set an empty place at the dinner table, inviting their ancestors to join them. 

The Scottish tradition of guising involved dressing up in a ghastly disguise in hope of blending in with roaming spirits, to avoid being recognised by them and taken away. Children would dress up and perform (songs, feats, etc) in return for treats such as fruit and nuts. 

When November 1st was declared as All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, the 31st became known as All Hallows Evening. 

In Scotland, this was shortened to Hallows E'en and eventually became Halloween. 

Announcement of the Halloween Ball at Forest Creek

The Red Hill Hotel in 1858, where the Halloween Ball was held. Richard Daintree, Photographer. Source: SLV.

The Scottish miners at Forest Creek were keen to celebrate Halloween in the style of their home country. They made their preparations and chose the Red Hill Hotel as the venue for their festivities. 

Towards the end of October, announcements were made in the papers declaring that Halloween celebrations in the form of a ball would be held at the Red Hill Hotel. 

"I am requested to state that the puddlers of Forest Creek will give a ball on Halloween (Friday next), at the Red Hill Hotel. The natives of the land o'cakes on the Creek are said to be making great preparations for the event." Mount Alexander Mail, 22nd October 1858

The event was advertised in the local paper as follows:

Mount Alexander Mail, 25th October 1858. Source: Trove.

A more descriptive announcement was seen in the Mount Alexander Mail a few days before the event:

Halloween - The Scots have stuck to the great Druidical festival, which, under a name calculated to hallow it, is celebrated on the last night of October. 

Burns had made the observances appropriate to the occasion familiar to all the world in his inimitable poem, descriptive of them, as practiced by the peasantry of the west of Scotland to this day. 

A number of Scotchmen have made arrangements for the celebration of the evening by a ball at the Red Hill Hotel, Forest Creek. 

Supper according to home country fashion will precede lighter amusements. A varied programme of dances has been provided by the committee, but we would suggest that time should be found for the sports which Burns has made classical, and that the entertainments will be made to approximate as nearly as circumstances will permit to the scenes of Auld Lang Syne. Mount Alexander Mail, 27th October 1858

A great success!

The Halloween Ball was a great hit! Around fifty couples turned up, enjoyed supper, then danced well into the next morning.

A summary was printed in the Mount Alexander Mail:

Halloween Ball - The Scottish Ball at the Red Hill went off with great success. There were about fifty couples present. The dancing did not commence till after supper, according to Halloween fashion, and as supper was found to occupy a longer time than was expected, the dancing continued to a late hour in the morning. Mount Alexander Mail, 1st November 1858




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Elaine Appleton
Michelle congratulations on this wonderful Goldfields Guide site you never cease to amaze me