Agnes Greig

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Agnes Franks, c1904, Courtesy Ballarat Heritage Services.


Agnes Greig, the daughter of John Greig and Margaret (Burrell or Birrell) was born on 15 November 1837 in Abbotshall, Fifeshire, Scotland. She immigrated to Sydney with her family in 1849 on the Agenoria.[1] The Greigs arrived at Ballarat on 18 November 1854. Around a year later, at the time of the Eureka battle, she was 16 years old. She lived in a tent near the stockade with her family and was said to have witnessed the rebellion. Her reminiscences are told in the book Eureka Reminiscences. She married William Franks in 1855, and a family followed: Margaret b. 1856 Ballarat (married Mr Anstey, died 1938 Ferntree Gully); Elizabeth b. 1858 Ballarat; John b. 1860 Ballarat; Euphemia b. 1861 Ballarat (married Henry Stephens 1883, died 1931 Footscray); and Jessie Grace b. 1870 Ballarat.

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Early goldfields’ reminiscences, such as those written by Agnes Franks (Greig) afford excellent illustrations of the courage and fortitude with which women faced the discomforts and hardships of the digger’s life. Agnes had lived in what is now known as Rodier Street for fifty years, on the spot where she stood on December 3, 1854, terror-stricken, at the door of her father’s tent, and saw the beginning of the attack on the stockade. Agnes was known for her very good memory and keen powers of observation.

Agnes wrote: WOMEN ON THE DIGGINGS - HARDSHIP FACED CHEERFULLY - A CHRISTENING “My father and his family landed in Sydney in 1849. He and my brother-in-law were on Ballarat in 1852. We came over to join them later, and arrived on the field on November 18, 1854. My mother, my sister, a younger brother, and I formed the party. My brother-in-law met us in Melbourne, and we started at once for the diggings in a dray, and were three days and two nights on the journey. My mother used to ride on the dray, but the young folks walked most of the way. It was all new and strange to us, and we found much to interest us on the way. We slept at night under the dray, and I shall never forget our first night camping out. The dray was surrounded by great forest trees, and the loneliness and stillness of it, broken now and again by strange night voices of the bush, was very weird. When we arrived we found my father had three tents in a cluster, here on the brow of the hill, where my home is still. I have resided here ever since. We had never entered a tent before, and to us who were women they looked queer places to live in, with saplings driven into the ground for bedposts and boxes for tables and chairs. We soon, however, got used to it all. Things were very disturbed when we arrived. My father and brother-in-law and their mates did not approve of the movement to resist the authorities, and frequently after tea they would go off for a stroll in the bush to escape being pestered with those who were for strife.

For several nights before the stockade fight everybody was in a state of alarm and anxiety. We slept in our clothes, ready to fly to a place of safety. My father was aroused on the Sunday morning by the soldiers firing, and quickly called us. We gathered some things together in bundles ready to make off. From our tent-door we could see the red-coats as they knelt on the ground and fired. Lester’s Free-Trade Hotel stood near the gatehouse, over there on the Buninyong line, and it was up behind that that the soldiers were posted. We all made off towards the Brown Hill, where hundreds of women and children, and men also, had gathered.

We returned home after the military had marched the prisoners away, and visited the stockade, and saw a number of dead bodies, and some of the pikes the blacksmith had made-some finished, some unfinished. Martial law was proclaimed, and for days there was no work done, and everybody was in a great state of anxiety. No light was allowed to be used after 8 o’clock, unless in the case of sickness, and then only with special permit from the commissioners. Things, however, soon settled down again, and we resumed our usual occupations.” … And a woman’s life, was it monotonous?

“There was a good deal of hardship, but we just learned to do without things, and were as happy and contented then as we are to-day, with all the conveniences we have about us. I have always thought that the young diggers of the early days were splendid fellows. Numbers of them were well set-up, manly men, and kind and respectful to women. Their digger’s costume was very picturesque. Red or blue shirts, with a red sash or a broad leather belt round the waist, with a brass snake buckle, and California felt hats, with broad brims and tall crowns. Sunday was their wash day, and it used to amuse us to see a long line of them at the creek washing.”

“Yes, I was married here, and to a digger, of course. When we set up housekeeping our tent was furnished in the same way as my father’s. I shall never forget the comical conditions under which my first baby was christened. I insisted on going to church to have the ceremony performed. My husband and I walked down to a Presbyterian church which stood back from Victoria Street, which was then called the Melbourne-road. The church was a big calico tent, mildewed round the flaps, and with holes in them; the seats were roughly-dressed slabs nailed to stringy bark posts driven into the ground; the pulpit, a drapery-case, with the top and one side knocked off; and the tables in front of it a gin case nailed to saplings. The congregation, besides ourselves, was one woman and two dogs. We had to wait for some time until the minister turned up, and as we waited the woman’s dogs chased each other in and out through the holes in the tent flaps. The minister gave us a sermon, and his son, who accompanied him, started the singing and took up the collection on a tin plate.”

And the housekeeping bill – was it heavy? “Yes; provisions were very dear; but then there was plenty of gold to be got. Eggs were 12/- (a dozen, milk 4/- (a quart, potatoes £1 (per lb., flour £5 a bag. There was no kerosene in those days. Candles were generally used for lighting, and these we often made ourselves. The scarcity of milk was the greatest hardship to families where there were young children. The carriers began to bring up goats from Geelong for sale, and I was quite envied by other mothers when my husband secured one for £6.” [2]

Post 1854 Experiences

In the News

Mrs Franks, who arrived in Ballarat the day after the Eureka Stockade fight, and has since continued to live in what in now Rodier Street. desires to plant a tree in the Stockade Reserve. At the Meeting of the council it was decided that her request be allowed. [3]

See also

Eureka Stockade Memorial Park

Further Reading

Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.

Dorothy Wickham, Women in 'Ballarat' 1851-1871: A Case Study in Agency, PhD. School of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Ballarat, March 2008.

Dorothy Wickham, Blood, Sweat and Tears: Women of Eureka in Journal of Australian Colonial History, 10, No, 1, 2008, pp. 99-115.

Dorothy Wickham, Women of the Diggings: Ballarat 1854, BHSPublishing, 2009.,_Sweat_and_Tears:_Women_at_Eureka

Clare Wright, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Text Publishing, 2013.

Dorothy Wickham, Not just a Pretty Face: Women on the Goldfields, in Pay Dirt: Ballarat & Other Gold Towns, BHSPublishing, 2019, pp. 25-36.


  2. Dorothy Wickham, Women of the Diggings, Ballarat 1854, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2009
  3. Ballarat Courier, 13 May 1900.

External links