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Around half a million immigrants flooded into the state of Victoria in the decade following the discovery of gold there in 1851.

From 1846 to 1855, Victoria's population swelled from around 33,000 to 347,305, and the state suddenly accounted for nearly one in every two people in Australia.

The largest numbers of immigrants come from Britain, Ireland, the United States, China and Germany.

The gold rush affected many communities in Ticino, Poschiavo in canton Graubünden and Valtellina and Piedmont in Italy. The Australian discoveries were seen as an opportunity to escape from the poverty, hunger and economic depression gripping alpine regions and neighbouring areas.

Among those profiting from the gold rush were Hamburg ship owners who transported thousands to Victoria.

In Switzerland, agents for these shipping companies focussed their recruitment on Ticino where there were no laws regulating emigration. They promised a comfortable voyage and the chance to make a fortune.

Between 1853 and 1855, some 2,000 Ticinesi, mainly young men from the Locarno and Valle Maggia areas as well as Val Verzasca, set sail for Australia. In the Maggia district alone, there were 464 departures, accounting for no less than 13 per cent of the population.

Almost all of these emigrants had to borrow money to pay for the passage.

Bendigo and Ballarat

The emigrants flocked to the small towns north of Melbourne, including Bendigo, Ballarat and Daylesford. Italian speakers from Lombardy, Piedmont and southern Switzerland formed one of the largest immigrant communities in the region.

It was soon clear, however, that the gold rush was almost over, contrary to the blandishments of the shipping agencies.

Some Ticinesi made their fortunes in Australia and rose to prominence in politics. Others who stayed on, accepting hardship and a modest standard of living. The majority, however, returned home empty-handed, with large debts to pay off, or moved on to California.

On the other hand, the flow of migrants from the Poschiavo valley continued over several decades. After 1862, when Britain granted more extensive rights to foreigners living in Australia, some immigrants from Poschiavo managed to buy land and settle permanently.



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