Goldfields Reform League

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On 01 August 1853 Governor Charles La Trobe had been presented with a monster petition seeking immediate reform of government administration. The thirteen metre petition contained thousands of signatures collected throughout the Victorian goldfields. It was couched in Chartist terms, and caused Governor Charles La Trobe to write to London warning of political unrest. [1]

Castlemaine Branch

Dr Harry Hambrook was a member of the Castlemaine Goldfields Reform League.

(Abridged from the Mount Alexander Mail.)
The greatest meeting that ever, was held in Castlemaine took place on Saturday last. It had been convened prior to the recent disturbances at Ballaarat, for the express purpose of receiving a report from the delegates who were appointed on a former occasion to convey to His Excellency the opinion of the diggers against the proposed scheme of selling or leasing supposed workedout ground. The collision at Ballaarat, however, gave a deeper interest to the meeting than it might have otherwise possessed; hundreds of men who would have remained unmoved upon the subjects of representation and the license-tax attended the meeting to give vent to their feelings upon the slaughter of the men at Ballaarat. The occasion thus acquired a largely increased significance and it will be seen from the following report, that at the instance of Mr. Donovan, the delegate from Sandhurst, the original purpose of the meeting has been extended to embrace all the principles of the Reform League in which Ballaarat and Bendigo were already united. The numbers present were about 4000 and the pro-ceedlngs were conducted with the utmost calmness and sobriety. It may be mentioned as a fact which Mr. Blair and the Rev. Dr. Milton should take a note of, that throughout the whole of this vast concourse there were observed not more than two or three individuals under the influence of liquor. The authorities wisely kept out of sight whatever military and police force they had. Capt. Bull, the worthy resident commissioner, and some other officials were present as spectators and were greeted in the most friendly manner. At three o'clock, Capt. Trewartha took the chair and introduced the immediate business of the meeting. He explained the preliminary proceedings, relative to the submission of a list of queries by the authorities and the delegation of Messrs. Hambrook and Palmer to collect the opinions of the diggers there upon. They were found adverse to the leasing of auriferous grounds as proposed by Government, and their committee drew up a remonstrance, which the delegates were appointed to convey to His Excellency. It was to receive their report that the present meeting was especially assembled and if they proceeded with any other matters it must be when that business was con- cluded and under a fresh chairman. (Cheers, cries of Ballaarat Ballaarat!) He concluded by introducing Dr. Hambrook who was received with cheering several times renewed. He expressed his high sense of the honor they conferred upon him, and was glad to see by their numerous attend-ance that they were at last roused to take an interest in their own concerns.
(Cheers) He meant, roused in the constitutional sense of the word. There must be no misunderstanding that afternoon. Every word that was said would be weighed in the balance he hoped none would be found wanting. Dr. Hambrook detailed the steps himself and brother delegate took to obtain a personal interview with His Excellency. They were much indebted to the assistance of a gentleman who had ever been a good friend to the diggers - John Pascoe Fawkner (Three Cheers for Mr. Fawkner were here given with right good will.) The Governor, in answer to their application for a personal in-terview appointed an hour when he would receive them, not as delegates, but as diggers This he (the speaker) regarded as a very great compliment to the class. They went at the time named and His Excellency received them very courteously. The first thing they brought be-fore his notice was the proposed not for selling or leasing auriferous lands. He replied that that act was simply brought forward to correct an illegality committed last year. (Laughter.) But who did that illegality rest with? Secretary Foster (Groans and hisses.) The speaker then went into the detail of the interview with the Governor, the particulars of which have already appeared in the Argus. So long as they employed only moral means, so long would he continue with them, but he could not countenance violence. (Three cheers for Hambrook, mingled with cries of " Ballaarat! Ballaarat!" ) Before he concluded he must remark upon the vacillating tone of a portion of the press. Whenever he had fault to find he preferred complaining openly, so that opportunity for refutation might be afforded if refutation was possible. There was an asser-tion in a late publlcation of the Melbourne Morning Herald that none of thelr moral remon- strances had ever been unattended to. (Laughter and hisses.) A most flagrant lie! (Cheers.) He used the word avowedly and advisedly, because they all well knew that many and many a moral remonstrance had gone from the diggings with-out the least effect. (Cheers.) It depended on themselves that not another from this field should be unattended to. In future they should be attended to. (Cheers.) He did not use the imperative mood, but only meant to imply that the authorities would accord what the diggers claimed as due to themselves. (A voice " When was a mere remonstrance ever attended to by Government, until it was backed by threats?" Cheers.) The strength of this movement now depended on themselves. If they accepted the Governor's offer, they must look out for a man who was capable of judging of what was best for their own interests and just to all. In looking over the budget he found that the sum intended to be applied to charitable and scientific purposes in 1854 had been reduced by £100,000 while there was an increase in the estimates for gold commissions and police of £75,000. (Hisses and cries, " Away with them , they'll beggar us," &c. ) That all arose from there being no party in the Council to keep such things in check. Representation must be accorded to them. Let physical force, however, be avoided, and moral agency be their only weapon. (Cheers and hisses and cries, " What good would it be at Ballaarat?"
" We have had moral force too long." " Ballaarat," " Ballaarat! &c.) Mr. Hambrook thanked the meeting for their attention and retired amidst much applause.
Mr. E. Palmer, the other delegate, then came forward, and coincided in all that had been narrated by Mr. Hambrook with respect to their interview with the Governor.
A vote of thanks was then passed by acclamation to the Chairman who in acknowledging the compliment, asked if the meeting confirmed all that had been done in opposition to the leasing or selling auriferous lands.
The meeting responded affirmatively with loud cheers and the Captain then vacated the chair.
During the pause which ensued while the subscription was being made, the expressions that escaped from the crowd clearly indicated that the most interesting part of the proceedings was that in which reference was expected to be made to the sanguinary scenes at Ballaarat, and when Mr. Donovan mounted the platform, the feeling burst out in three tremendous groans for martial law, and it was some minutes ere the excitement subsided. Many of the men had purchased pieces of red ribbon, and tied them on their caps, in sign of their determination not to pay any further license-tax. The sight of these emblems added considerably to the prevalent enthusiasm. When quietness was restored, Mr. Donovan moved the appointment of Dr. Hambrook to the chair.
The motion was seconded and carried unanimously.
Dr. Hambrook, on assuming the chair, was greeted with three times three. He had now, he said, taken a position which had cost him some sleepless hours last night, before he could decide on occupying it. He was perfectly persuaded there was danger connected with it. (Cries of "No, no;" "Not while we are here," &c.) It was his wish that they would act consistently with their character for manliness, and not ask at the hands of others what was impossible for them to concede, nor seek for themselves what they to others would not ac-cord. (Cheers.) He was then before them on a different footing, to talk of a very different subject, but he hoped the same good order they had observed hitherto would continue through that meeting. (Cheers.) Before he would con-sent to take the chair, the resolutions intended to be presented had been submitted to him. He hoped they would receive the calm and determined support of the meeting; but that, at the same time, the public peace should be observed, and tranquillity not be broken. (Cheers.) He sincerely trusted that, if there did happen any ebullition of feeling, they would not forget him as their chairman, but treat him with the respect that was due to one who had labored honestly for their benefit. (Cheers, and " We will, we will.") He placed himself in that position in full reliance on the honor of his brother diggers (cheers), and he was sure they would not treat him with disrespect. He hoped they would listen calmly and temperately to the remarks of the speakers, and not only decide on the in-stant, but reflect upon the matters in their own homes. Let there, however be no vacillation - let them not profess one thing there and another when they got to their tubs and cradles. (Cheers.) He respected authority as much as any man, because it was necessary for the pro- tection of life and property. The end of all good government was the benefit of the governed. They had had no good government yet, but now that a stumbllng-block had been removed out of the way in the shape of Mr. Secretary Foster, (prolonged groans, hisses, and hideous noises of all descriptions,) they might perhaps be entitled to look forward a little more hopefully. That man had been the cause of more direct evils in connec-tion with the goldfields and their interests than any twenty members of college extant (renewed groans); and it was his (the chaiman's) conviction that by Mr. Foster's resignation Sir Charles Hotham would be relieved of an incubus, a night-mare, which kept him from doing good. (Cheers.) The Governor, he believed, was a man of genuine good intentions, but he had not yet acquired sufficient experience, and had, unfortunately, been associated with bad counsellors. (A voice, ."We must colonise him, then. " - laughter and cheers.) Now that he had got rid of one obstacle, it was to be hoped he would soon be relieved of the others, and then Sir Charles could shew whether or not he was the man he pro-fessed to be, (Cries of " He is," "He is not," "He's a shicer," &c.) It was all very well to say he's a shicer, but who formed their opinions of men hastily would often find reason to change them. The Chairman concluded by introduclng Mr. Denovan, a delegate from the Reform League at Bendigo.
Mr. Denovan was greeted wlth enthusiastic applause. After requesting that silence might be observed as much as possible throughout his address, he referred to the operation of the league at Bendigo and the recent connection of Ballaarat with its movements. He mentioned that a meeting was held at Bendigo on the previous Saturday, at which were present 20,000 people, who were addressed by himself and Mr. Holyoake, the Ballaarat delegate, and all of whom were favorable to the objects of the league, which were - abolition of the license-tax, abolition of the gold commission, and re-duction of the public expenditure of the nation; representation, and equal division of the state taxes; revocation of the orders in Council & throwing open the public lands; repairs of roads and bridges, and the immediate establishment over the diggings of a liberal system of moral, religious and scientific education. (Cheer.) That was the political programme of the Reform League and upon that they took their stand. When the diggers heard of the Governor's intended visit to Bendigo, they resolved on paying their respects to him, and 10,000 of their number presented him with a list of grievances. His Excellency, who addressed them from a hill, sald he had been only a short time in the colony ; that he had yet had no oppor-tunity of studying matters ; that he did not like to make promises, as circumstances might disable him from fulfilling them ; but that as the Gover-nor of the loyal people of Bendigo (as he called them) he would take the memorandum into his consideration, and if be found they were right, "he was just the boy to stick to them." (Laughter and cheers,) Subsequently to that another petition was presented to the Legislative Council and several others at a later period, but no-no had met with that attention which their importance demanded, and therefore, at the meeting on Saturday, the following legislatlon was proposed : -
That as the legislature have taken no satisfactory steps to redress the grievances of the residents on the gold-fields, this meeting protests against the injury done them, and resolves to take out no more licenses for gold-digging, and to quietly abide the consequences ; and as it is necessary that the diggers should know their friends, every miner agrees to wear as a pledge of good faith, and in support of the cause, a piece of red ribbon on his hat not to be removed until the license-tax is abolished.
(Much cheering) That resolution was unanmously passed. (Cheers.) The rule of action to be adopted was this:- if the police went round to search for licenses, no resistance would be offerred, as they were simply executive officers, but on an arrest taking place it should be reported to the committee by the nearest observer; they would immediately call a monster meeting and the whole of the people would deliver themselves into custody. (Loud Cheers.) The men of Bendigo meant to abide by the consequences of that resolution If the people of Forest Creek thought it was right, let, them adopt it, so that there should be united actlon on all the gold fields of the colony. (Cheers) The following were the other resolutions :-
That as all men are born free and equal, this meeting claims their right to a voice in the framing and passing of laws which they are called upon to obey ; and look upon nomineeism as a compro-mise of thier just rights, and will not accept as a gift that which is their inherent right, and will have nothing short of their full and fair share in the representation of the country.
That as the public lands belong by right to the people, and were, given by the Creator for the use of man, add cannot, with Justice, be alienated from him, this meeting declares that the Government cannot any longer with propriety withhold them from the people; that the present pernicious land system should, without delay, be abrogated, anti the standing orders in Council revoked.
That this meeting resolves to unite with the people on the varlous goldfields, and of the towns of Melbourne and Geelong, in every just effort to secure their rights.
That this meeting indignantly protests against the violent and illegal resort to arms on the part of the Government against the people of Ballaarat, and the hostile attitude assumed by them towards the naturally peaceably disposed and industrious inhabitants of the gold-fields, by placing them illegally under martial law, and deliberately records its unalterably fixed determination, in the event of the Government refuslng to immediately withdraw the military from all the diggings, to use every just means within its power to obtain their sacred and inalienable rights.
That in the opinion of this meeting the late disturbances at Ballaarat have been entirely occa-sioned by the exasperating and imprudent conduct of the authorities ; that the men who at present in custody should immediately be liberated and that the Government should alone be held responsible for the consequences.
That for the purpóse of carrying out the foregoing resolutions, and as soon as the necessary steps shall have been taken for organising and uniting all the gold-fields with the cities and towns, a great national conference be held in Melbourne, to secure justice to the people, and the full and free rights of our adopted country - Australia.
That a committee be elected for the purpose of corresponding with the other gold-fields, and of carrying out the objects of the Goldfields Reform League.
That this meeting from their very souls sympa-thlse with the true men of the people who are unjustly imprisoned for taking part in the late out-break, and also desire to publicly express thelr es- teem for the memory of the brave men who have fallen in battle, and that to shew their respect every dlgger and their friends do wear tomorrow (Sunday), a band of black crepe on his hat, and in their public and prlvate dovotlons remember the widows and orphans of the dead warriors.
The resolutions were all received with a great deal of cheering, except the last, on the reading of which, at the request of Mr. Denovan every hat was lifted from the head with an expression of deep reverence. Mr. D. said the last reso-lution was appended after the Bendigo meeting had taken place, but it would now be proposed for adoption with the others. The time was long past when the grievances under which the people on the gold-fields labored should have been remedied. They had been so often de-ceived that they felt no confidence in the Government. All the forms of peaceful and constitutional agitation had been employed to raise the residents on the gold-fields to a positlon in the state equal to that occupied by other classes but without effect. Once again they came forward from the mass of the people to ask for the common rights of citizenship, to demand that the same laws and the same justice given to others should be accorded to them; and if the Govern-ment were not mad, if they were not totally un-wise, they would no longer resist the claim, but set at rest the unpleasant agitation, and convert the digging community into a contented and prosperous section of the population. In con-nection with this subject it became his duty to refer to a most painful topic - one to which, in the present state of the public mind, it was hazardous to refer. But he must speak his mind freely and openly on whatever concerned the vital in-terests of the country. As a people, they had not been accustomed to military domination. (Cheers, and " We wont have it !') They were unused to governance by special military law and the league were determined that, come whatwould, the people should not submit to them. (Immense cheering.) (The speaker then went into a detail of the circumstances attending the " massacre," as he termed it, at Ballaarat.) Might (he continued) their names descend to posterity among the heroes of Australia ! (Cheers) - Mr. Donovan referred to the " special constable meetings" in Melbourne, and condemned them as having a tendency to set class against class. If the specials of Melbourne armed themselves with batons it was time for the people of the gold-fields to betake themselves to their own weapons. He then made a stirring appeal to the meeting upon the object of the Reform League, and concluded his speech by formally proposing to the meetlng the accept-ance of all the resolutions except the first, which, would be made the subject of a. special motion after the appointment of a committee.
The resolutions were carried with much cheering.
The following committee was then elected :-Dr. Hambrook; G. Harrower, timber merchant; W. Williams, OddFellows' Arms, Campbell's Creek; W. Palmer, Bath Arms, Campbell's Creek; and Messrs. Joseph Worrall, E. Palmer, G. Rutledge, D. Webster, S. Vile, John Williams, and William Amer, diggers; with power to add to their number.
Mr. Denovan then proposed that the committee be called on formally to adopt the first resolution. They would understand that no violence was to be offered to the authorities; the plan he had described as in operation at Bendigo would be followed out in Forest Creek. If the police went round on Monday, the people were to refrain from crying " Joe " - that was disgraceful, and they had higher game to play. Let every arrest be quietly submitted to, and he hoped the people would not pull down the red ribbon after having once hoisted it.
The Chairman then put the first resolution is the committee, who were in various parts of the crowd, and who were requested to hold up their hands in token of assent.
The Chairman declared the resolution passed by the committee, and it was then sunbmitted to the meeting with the same result, Mr. Denovan leading off with "three times three" for the Anti-License Cause and Red Ribbons !
Mr. Denovan said he should return tó Bendigo to-morrow. He should remember his visit to Castlemaine with pleasure.
Three cheers were then given for the Ballaarat men.
The Chairman shortly afterwards vacated the chair, and the vast assemblage, after witnessing. the burning of a few licenses gradually & quietly dispersed
On Sunday we observed numerous bodies of diggers with the red ribbon and crape around their hats.[2]

Also See

Ballarat Reform League


Red Ribbon Rebellion


  1. Eureka: The First Australian Republic?, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery and Public Record Office Victoria, 1997, p1.
  2. The Argus, 15 December 1854.