Ellen Clacy set off from England to accompany her brother to the Victorian diggings in 1852. In 1963, editor Patricia Thompson noted that she seemed an ‘ideal girl’ to take to the diggings: ‘She noticed everything, enjoyed everything, and willingly turned her hand to cooking, camping or washing for gold.’ She filled a diary with descriptions of goldfields life and ‘adventures’ involving bushrangers, orphaned children, falling in love and getting married. This was published almost as soon as she arrived back in England in 1853 and quickly sold out.
Further biographical details remain sketchy. Margaret Anderson points to new research that hints at an absconding husband and an illegitimate child born at sea, suggesting that Clacy’s life was in fact more complex, harder, and less ‘respectable’ than the one she constructed in her published account.