State Library of Victoria hoping to buy rare letter featuring The Diggers' Ten Commandments

“I AM a digger, who wandered from my native home and came to sojourn in a strange land.” 

Early days: A painting by Samuel Thomas Gill, 1818-1880, of the rush to the Ballarat goldfields in 1854. PICTURE: National Library of Australia

Early days: A painting by Samuel Thomas Gill, 1818-1880, of the rush to the Ballarat goldfields in 1854. PICTURE: National Library of Australia

These are the only known facts about an anonymous Ballarat digger, who penned a humorous six-page letter outlining the rules of conduct for diggers during the quest for gold in the 1850s.

The Diggers’ Ten Commandments circulated the goldfields between 1851 and 1860 and is now being urgently sought by the Victorian State Library.

State Library collection services manager Jo Ritale said the library was seeking to buy the rare document as part of its annual appeal which aimed to acquire significant collection items from across Victoria. 

The document is currently owned by a private investor, but the library aims to raise more than $60,000 to buy it by the end of the month. 

“It is an important historical document that symbolises the Australian personality,” Ms Ritale said.

 “It’s light-hearted and quite humorous and but it also reflects the unique ‘fair go for all’ philosophy that Australia is renowned for that was carried on from the goldfields into the Eureka stockade and other significant times in Victoria’s history.” 

The hand-written document gives an eye witness account into the Victorian gold rush and sets out unwritten laws diggers should abide by, including not leaving a swag at a boarding house without making arrangements with “the man whose grub thou has eaten”.

 There are also rules discouraging gambling away gold in games of roulette and poker, with the stern warning; “the more thou puttest down, the less thou shalt take up”.

Ms Ritale said if the library was successful in purchasing it, the commandments would be kept alongside other items of its vintage, including personal diaries of Australian gold diggers, photos and sketches of the era and an original petition signed by Bendigo gold miners objecting to heavy licence fees.

The library also plans to digitise the document so it can be read online.

To date the library has raised almost $30,000 for the appeal which is also raising money to purchase a photo collection of 1970s Melbourne streetscapes and rare illustrated book La Fin du Monde. 

To donate, visit slv.vic.gov.au/support-us/annual-appeal

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