Eureka 80, 1934

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The Revolt at Eureka’ cover by R. Wenban. Schools Publishing House, 1959.
EUREKA RIOT - 80th Anniversary Celebrated - BALLARAT, Sunday. - In celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Eureka riot, there was a large gathering at the Stockade Reserve this afternoon. The mayor (Councillor L. Lederman) presided. District members of Parliament and several leading citizens were present. Contributions to the programme were made by the Ballarat Choral Union, under Mr. Haydn West, and selections were played by the City of Ballarat Band, under Mr. A. Rowell, and the Highland Pipe Band.
Councillor Lederman congratulated the reserve Improvement committee on the work It had done in beautifying the reserve, upon which £4,000 had so far been expended. They were doing a fine work in thus honouring the memory of the pioneers. What flag would they have been living under now but for the diggers, and what better flag was there to live under than the Union Jack? Could they expect liberty and freedom from communism or fascism?
The Rev. W. Bennett said that they were not there to glorify war, but to remember those who fought for liberty. There was a poor future for those who had a thin memory of the past.
The Rev. F. L. Heriot said that the Eureka Memorial, unlike most memorials connected with war, stood for both-those who represented law and order and those who had revolted against them. Both sides were represented, not because of a broader charity or wider reasoning, but because they were the one people.
Mr. N. F. Spielvogel, president of the Ballarat Historical Society, reviewed interesting incidents connected with the riot.[1]

Eureka Stockade
Labor Hour over radio 3KZ

Monday, 3rd December, marked the eightieth anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, Australia’s nearest approach to internal warfare, and the most inspiring chapter in the annals of democracy. How many voters today when escorted to the polling booths by political canvassers and often transported in motor cars, realise that eighty years ago the 20-odd miners of Ballarat laid down their lives, and many others suffered unusual hardships in order that such political ?? should be obtained? Surely such an episode is worthy of commemoration, and particularly worthy of attention of young Australians!
Let us glance at the prevailing economical and social conditions of the period to see a reason why men felt called upon to make such a sacrifice.
Just prior to the discovery of gold, Victoria was in 1851 separated from N.S.Wales, and the first Governor, La Trobe, appointed; he had the assistance of a Legislative Council which, needless to say, was elected on a most limited franchise of property-holders. The population increased rapidly from 90,000 early in 1852 to 250,000 in 1853, as a result of the gold activities, and the costs of administration were financed largely from the gold licenses. Every miner had to pay for his license at the rate of 30/- per month. This amount of £18 a year was a considerable sum indeed, on top of it the miner had also to pay ?? for right to work ground. It is estimated that the diggers paid somewhere between £500,00 and £800,000 per annum direct taxation; while on the other hand the great land holders and wool producers who had control of the political estate paid £20,000, while the squatters could pay as they pleased. The method of collecting the license from the diggers was most barbarous. The police on the goldfields, who were charged with the duty of inspecting the licenses, carried out their work in a most brutal manner. It was a common thing for a digger who was found without a license to be chained to a log for a couple of days before being brought before the authorities, from whom he received no sympathetic consideration. Contemporary records all bear testimony to the violent and inhuman scene that occurred as the tyrannical and often corrupt officials proceeded on their rounds.
Even the “Argus” of the time (6/11/1854) stated that “armed parties of tax-foragers have hunted men and burnt down dwellings, like in the Russian provinces and on the Victorian goldfields.” Being de-franchised the only means the diggers had of drawing attention to their difficulties was to petition the authorities, petitions which were ignored by the Governor. It was realised that some other means would have to be adopted before any reform could be achieved. La Trobe was displaced by Hotham, but the change of personages meant nothing as the system went on. As the year 1854 passed on it was clear that a struggle was imminent. Already there had been loud protests from Bendigo concerning the administration and the exorbitant license fee. It was asked that the license fee be reduce to 10/- per month, a request which was contemptuously rejected. The movement spread to Ballarat, where the whole of the goldfields were soon alive with agitation. The Governors’ reply was to send military re-inforcements.
The first outbreak of actual violence occurred at Bentley’s Hotel on October 17th, 1854, and although Professor Scott (History of Australia) may refer to this incident as a “local squabble”, it has much deeper significance. Bentley, the disreputable owner of a low- class inn, had been discharged by the local magistrate, Dewes, before whom he was arraigned on the charge of murdering a digger. The evidence against Bentley was so strong that it was generally believed that he was guilty and the magistrate had on previous occasions been suspected of corruption. The diggers were so incensed at this perversion of justice that they took matters into their own hands, and Bentley would have been lynched if he had not escaped in the night. The magistrate, Dewes, was later dismissed, fled to British Columbia, where he was committed for embezzlement, and ended his days in Paris by committing suicide. This was the type of official on the goldfields, and the diggers having no political rights, and no voice in the administration, could only act on the lines they did. If any administration wished to hold popular respect it should be free from any suspicious corruption, nor should it be actuated by any untoward motives.
Events thereafter moved rapidly. The Governor hoped to overawe the people by a display of military force; The miners were determined to see the struggle through, cost what it might, since they realised that, disfranchised as they were, ?icluded by despotic officials, and were despised by a Governor who was accustomed to ruling the quarter deck of a ship, they must make their demands made in no uncertain manner.
The Ballarat Reform League was inaugurated, which had for its objects political representation, manhood suffrage, abolition of property qualification for members of Legislative Council, abolition of license fees, and certain changes in the system of administration. To use the words of a local newspaper, “ Ballarat Times”; “ The League had undertaken a mighty task- that of changing the dynasty of the country.” The editor of the paper Henry Seekamp, who was later tried for sedition, rendered excellent service to the cause of the diggers, and although Rusden, in his History of Australia, vol 2 may refer to him as “wretched creature”- a remark quite unworthy of anyone with any pretensions of being an historian- democracy has every reason to be grateful for his outspoken and able writing. It was now only a matter of time before some armed conflict took place. To quote “The Argus” (28/10/4) of the period once again: “Such events have generally been found essential in the progress of liberty and good government. Canada could not get a British statesman to listen to her till she broke into rebellion. We have not been successful in gaining the ear of Downing-street on the subject of convictism because we have been too loyal to venture upon a similar demonstration.” Shades of the past! Oh, that we had a daily newspaper of such outspoken sentiments today!
A Digger Hunt, University of Ballarat Historical Collection (Cat.No. 4170)
Unknown maker (Australia), The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag), 1854, wool, cotton.
Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection. Gift of the King family, 2001
The subsequent events that took place in the last days of November are well known. Further petitions rejected by the authorities, mass meetings of protest by the diggers, and the burning of the licences and the forming of the diggers into some sort of military detachments. Then came the erection of the famous stockade, which was intended for a screen behind which to carry on drilling rather than a protective barrier, the raising of the flag, the Southern Cross, and taking the famous oath. The last license hunt took place on Thursday, 30th November, when amidst some violent scenes, a large number of diggers were arrested. It is interesting to note at this stage, the various personalities who found their way to the front as popular leaders. At first J.B. Humffray and Timothy Hayes were the most prominent, then as the crisis approached, Peter Lalor, by his strength of character, courage, and a clear perception of the objective became the Commander. Supporting him were Kennedy and Black: Vern, an Hanoverian, who was reputed to have some knowledge of military tactics; Raffaelo, a picturesque Italian, whose reminiscences have been preserved to us in book form; and Loven, a Russian, and one of the first to die at the barricades.
From a military point of view the position of the diggers was hopeless. They had certainly the numbers on the goldfield but lacked organisation and equipment; firearms and ammunition were scarce, many of the defenders being armed with crude pikes which a zealous German blacksmith had turned out; while the stockade itself offered little protection to those within and less obstruction to any attackers. Certainly, additional numbers of gallant miners marched in from Creswick and surrounding districts, but these re-inforcements created greater problems for Lalor and his Lieutenants in the way of providing food and accommodation. Spies were active on this occasion, as they always are when the working classes are involved in a vital struggle, and the military officers were well informed of the movements of the diggers. On the fateful Sunday morning, when, under cover of the grey mist, a military force of 276 men silently approached the stockade, there were scarcely 200 defenders in it, and it was believed that of these only about 50 were armed with rifles. Though the fight could have only one result, there are individual deeds which must live forever in the history of freedom, and deserve Democracy’s Victoria Cross.
Lalor, roused from a sleep of exhaustion, rushed to the barricade, and was shot down by a severe shoulder wound. Thonen and Ross, the next two leaders with any military experience, were killed outright, and the German blacksmith who made the pikes wielded one with good effect until laid low by the sword of a military officer. In less than half and hour what had been the camp of the gallant diggers was under the heel of the conqueror, and soon to be a mass of smoking ruins. Lalor, badly wounded was hidden in a shaft, and his subsequent rescue and concealment from the authorities, despite the fact that a reward of £400 was placed on his head, speaks volumes for the loyalty and solidity of the people for whom he fought. Vern and Black escaped to have a reward of £400 placed on their heads; while Raffaelo was taken prisoner. It is estimated that nearly 30 diggers lost their lives, while the number of wounded will never be known. 125 were taken prisoners, from whom 13 were chosen to be tried for treason. At this stage it looked like defeat for the miners and a smashing victory for the authorities. The military were triumphant; whatever semblance of defence the diggers possessed had been destroyed, their leaders killed, captive, or exiled, and the general populace, cowed before the savage onslaught of the troopers. Law and Order had been vindicated, and the rebellious elements squashed.
But Victoria was aroused.[2]


Eureka Stockade Revolt Recalled By Death Of Last Miner
William Edward Atherdcn, the last of the Eureka Stockade miners, died in Western Australia yesterday at the age of 96 years. It is 80 years ago since the Eureka miners made their famous stand, so that Atherden must have been only 16 probably the youngest miner on the field when the incident happened. The circumstances leading to the Eureka Stockade arose from an Act promulgated in January, 1852, when, to meet the expense of secur ing order on the Victorian goldfields, and to restrain unauthorised mining on waste Crown land, a license fee of 30/ a month was imposed on all diggers, the penalty for mining with out a license being £5 for the first of fence, and afterwards imprisonment for terms up to six months. Clause 7 of THE Act appropriated half the recovered penalties to the use of the informer or Prosecutor a provocative and irritating provision. In December, 1853, an amending Act reduced the fee to £1 per month, but did not alter the diggers great grievance — that they could be imprisoned for not having the actual license on them, though their possession of one could be proved from the official records. They were, too, unrepresented in Parliament, though in 1854 the population on the Ballarat goldfleld was estimated at 20,000. Sir Charles Hotham, who reached Victoria In June, 1854, was alarmed at the depleted state of the Treasury and the growing expense of goldfields administration, and ordered the police to redouble their exertions in collect ing the fees. To miners barely making rations the payment of £12 per annum was impossible, and doubtless hundreds did endeavour to evade payment, but the innocent suffered with the guilty. The police, too, had been largely recruited from Tasmania, and many were ex-convicts who bad risen to be gaol wardens; some, in addition to their venality, showed a rough bru-tality. These grievances were common to all the Victorian fields, and had under the Latrobe administration produced riots at Beechworth and Castlemaine. :MINER MURDERED. Bendigp was the malcontents' head quarters, but in the first months of Hotham's regime even Bendigo be came orderly. Ballarat had always been the most domestic of the gold-fields, renowned for its schools and its quietness on Sundays. But on the night of October 6 a miner named James Scrobie was killed at the Eureka Hotel, near Ballarat, and the murdered man's brother accused the pro prietor (Bentley, a Tasmanlan ex-convict) of the murder. Bentley was brought up before a magistrate, and discharged. The miners were indignant; a meeting was called for the 17th, and the committee appointed to demand a fresh prosecution. The meeting it self was orderly, but towards the. end of it a cry was raised that the police (who had been ordered to protect the hotel) were trying to disperse the meeting, and the miners, becoming furious, swept aside the police, smash-. ed the windows and furniture, and burned the building. The police ar rested three men, who could not be proved to have been ringleaders or active in the riot, but were sentenced to three, four, and six months' imprisonment at an indignation meeting held on November 11 on Bakery Hill the Bal larat Reform League was formed, with J.B. Humffray (a Welshman) as its first secretary, and Peter Lalor, Frederic Vern (a Hanoverian and a talker), Raffaello (an Italian teacher of languages), Timothy Hayes (an Irishman), and George Black (an Englishman of good education and considerable intelligence) as prominent members. A deputation of three men waited on Hotham to demand the release of the prisoners, but he had al ready sent additional troops to Ballarat, and on the 27th refused the demand. Meanwhile, the troops which arrived in Ballarat had given consider able offence by marching In with fixed bayonets; their captain's refusal to parley with "rebels" fired the crowd, which threw itself on the convoy, overturned a waggon, captured an other, and injured three or four soldiers. This action, it should be remembered, was condemned by the leaders of the league.
LICENSES BURNT. On November 29, Black, Humffray, and Kennedy reported to a mass meeting held at Bakery Hill the result of their deputation, and pleaded for further negotiation. The burning of the obnoxious licenses was proposed and the meeting pledged Itself to burn all licenses and to unite and protect and one arrested for having none. Bonfires were lighted, and the licenses burnt there and then. Next day (November 30), the police were ordered to make a specially vigorous license-hunt; a squadron of mounted troopers was received with a volley of stones and an occasional pistol-snot; Commissioner Rede endeavoured to read the Riot Act, but was told the licenses were all burned and that, if he liked, the whole camp would surrender — an obviously absurd proposal, as it would have been Impossible to guard so many prisoners. When the troops marched back to camp the diggers hastened to a conference with the leading spirits of the league. Peter Lalor was elected leader, and under a blue flag adorned with the stars of the Southern Cross, which had already been flown at the meeting of the 29th, the assembled diggers swore "to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights I and liberties." An area of about an acre on the Eureka claim was hastily enclosed by piled-up mining slabs; building timber, and any other material handy. A deputation sent to the camp demanded the release of the morning's prisoners and the cessation of license-hunting, but the commissioner refused flatly, saying that the agitation was only a cloak to cover a democratic revolution.
STOCKADE STORMED. On December 1 the occupants of the stockade were hard at work by 5 a.m., drilling and improving the barrier, and a German blacksmith was fashioning pikeheads. But neither food nor ammunition was available within the stockade, and many men left it in search of these commodities, so that by the evening of the 2nd not more than 200 remained within. Spies informed the commissioner of the situation, and about 4.30 a.m. on Sunday morning, December 3; a troop of 276 men was marched silently to the stockade. Of those within about 50 had rifles; there was also a troop of Californian diggers armed with revolvers, and another of Irish men armed with pikes. Many of them were asleep when the signal gun was fired and a storming party of 64 "rushed" the stockade. In the first volleys several men fell on both sides, but the line of advancing bayonets, flanked on both sides by cavalry and mounted police, was too much for the diggers. They turned to seek shelter, and all was over. Of the military force Captain Wise and four private soldiers were killed, and about a dozen injured. Sixteen miners were killed, and at least eight others died of their wounds — probably many died in hiding; 114 prisoners were taken, but all were discharged except 13 (including Hayes and Raffaello) who were held to take their trial for high treason. Lalor, badly wounded, managed to escape; so did Black and Vern, though the Government offered £500 for the apprehension of Vern, and £200 each for Black and Lalor. Ballarat was put under martial law at once. On the 6th, Sir Robert Nickle arrived with reinforcements. He blamed the rebels, but listened to the miners' grievances, and his just and conciliatory treatment bad a soothing affect on the population— as did his announcement that the Governor had appointed a commission to enquire into their wrongs. On the 9th the ban of martial law was withdrawn, though the miners declared they, preferred it to police rule.'
ALL ACQUITTED. The trials began in February, 1855, and two men wore acquitted without needing to defend themselves. The Attorney-General postponed the rest of the trials until March, but without effect — all the men- appeared, pleaded, listened to the charges, and were also acquitted without being called on for a defence. When the last prisoner walked free, the rewards for the capture of the missing men were withdrawn. While the diggers' grievances were undoubtedly great, and Che severity of the police administration was officially condemned by a Royal Commission appointed by Hotham to enquire into the whole trouble. It Is also certain that some of the League's loaders had in view far more than a mere redress of grievances. Lalor, Humffray and Black were probably Inspired solely by Indignation, but several of tho Italian, German and American leaders hoped to make the movement -a political one, and to establish republic.[3]

Also See



  1. The Argus, 3 December 1934
  2. The Labor Call, 3 Jan 1935, pg 13.
  3. Rockhampton Evening N ews, 15 May 1934.