This model depicts the mine and treatment works of the Port Phillip & Colonial Gold Mining Company at Clunes, once the most famous goldmine in Australia and a pioneer in large-scale mining of low-grade quartz ore.
It was the last and most ambitious of 10 scale models that the Swedish-born miner and artisan Carl Nordström made for the museum in the late 1850s, depicting aspects of early Victorian goldmining. The model was commissioned by Fredrick McCoy in April 1858 and took over six months to complete at a cost of £215, over twice Nordström’s initial estimate.
Nordström built the model ‘on location’ at the mine site and was assisted by the company’s manager, Rivett Bland, and the company’s engineer in perfecting details of the machinery and underground workings. He used materials at hand on the goldfields, such as plaster of Paris, hessian, wire, candle wax, sheet lead and timber from packing crates. He made each figure and piece of machinery in exact proportion to its actual size at a scale of 3/8 inch to a foot (1 in 32), while cleverly reducing the overall size of the model by shortening the relative distance between various features on the site.
When first displayed in Melbourne in early 1859, the model so impressed a reporter from the Argus that he described it as unsurpassed in ‘boldness of . . . design, minuteness of detail, and beauty of execution’. In the decades since, the Clunes model has continued to fascinate and delight succeeding generations of museum visitors.