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Snell, Edward (1820 - 1880)

Devon, England
Artist, Engineer and Surveyor

In 1849, 29 year old Edward Snell set out for Australia in search of adventure and fortune. On the boat out he wrote in his diary: ‘When I was 21 I calculated on making a small fortune by the time I was 30 but have made little headway in that line as yet’. He achieved his ambition in the next decade and the diary he kept for those years has left us with a vibrant literary and artistic record of the gold rushes. Unlike many other contemporary diaries, Snell’s was not written for publication and has a frank, intimate and irreverent flavour. He reflects on everything from an unhappy love affair with an Adelaide woman to burning damper on the diggings. Numerous and detailed sketches further animate his observations.

Snell had significant success as a digger in 1852, but it was as an engineer that he really struck gold. He became involved in the construction of the first Geelong-Melbourne railway (opened in 1857) and other work opportunities proliferated. In 1858, his fortune made, Snell returned to England with his family.

Caitlin Mahar

Griffiths, Tom and Alan Platt, 'Edward Snell: Sketching a Fortune', in Iain McCalman, Alexander Cook and Andrew Reeves (eds), Gold: forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001. Details
Snell, Edward, The life and adventures of Edward Snell, Tom Griffiths (ed), Angus & Robertson and the Library Council of Victoria, Melbourne, 1988. Details