John Maddern

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Bendigo Goldfields Petition Cover, August 1853. State Library of Victoria (MS 12440) and Condemned them to hard labor on the Public Roads of the Colony - A proceeding Your Petitioners maintain to be contrary to the spirit of the British Law which does not recognise the principle of the Subject being a Criminal because he is indebted to the State
That the impost of Thirty Shillings a Month is unjust because the successful and unsuccessful Digger are assessed in the same ratio
For these reasons and others which could be enumerated Your Petitioners pray Your Excellency to Grant the following Petition
* First. To direct that the Licence Fee be reduced to Ten Shillings a Month
* Secondly To direct that Monthly or Quarterly Licenses be issued at the option of the Applicants
* Thirdly To direct that new arrivals or invalids be allowed on registering their names at the Commissioners Office fifteen clear days residence on the Gold Fields before the License be enforced
* Fourthly To afford greater facility to Diggers and others resident on the Gold Fields who wish to engage in Agricultural Pursuits for investing their earnings in small allotments of land
* Fifthly To direct that the Penalty of Five Pounds for non-possession of License be reduced to One Pound
* Sixthly To direct that (as the Diggers and other residents on the Gold Fields of the Colony have uniformly developed a love of law and order) the sending of an Armed Force to enforce the License Tax be discontinued.
Your Petitioners would respectfully submit to Your Excellency's consideration in favour of the reduction of the License Fee that many Diggers and other residents on the Gold-fields who are debarred from taking a License under the present System would if the Tax were reduced to Ten Shillings a Month cheerfully comply with the Law so that the License Fund instead of being diminished would be increased
Your Petitioners would also remind your Excellency that a Petition is the only mode by which they can submit their wants to your Excellency's consideration as although they contribute more to the Exchequer that half the Revenue of the Colony they are the largest class of Her Majesty's Subjects in the Colony unrepresented
And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray etc.
Red Ribbon Movement Monument in Rosalind Park, Bendigo [detail], 2013. Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection


Goldfields Involvement, 1853-1854

Signed the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. Agitation of the Victorian goldfields started with the Forest Creek Monster Meeting in 1851, but what became known as the Red Ribbon Movement was centred around the Bendigo goldfields in 1853. The Anti-Gold License Association was formed at Bendigo in June 1853, led by George Thomson, Dr D.G. Jones and 'Captain' Edward Browne. The association focused its attention on the 30 shillings monthly licence fee miners were required to pay to the government. They drew up a petition outlining digger grievances and called for a reduced licence fee, improved law and order, the right to vote and the right to buy land. The petition was signed by diggers at Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine, McIvor (Heathcote), Mount Alexander (Harcourt) and other diggings. The 13 metre long petition was presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe in Melbourne on the 01 August 1853, but their call for a reduction in monthly licence fees and land reform for diggers was rejected. The diggers dissatisfaction erupted into the Red Ribbon Rebellion where agitators wore red ribbons on their hats symbolising their defiance of the law and prohibitive licence fees.

Post 1854 Experiences

It is an interesting experience to sit with an old colonist and allow him to wander at random through the pages of memory, recalling the doings and adventures of his early days. If one would take a peep at the "diggings" in the "roaring fifties" one couîd not secure a better guide than Mr. John Maddern, a sturdy old Cornishman, and a well-known resident of Adelaide. He can tell of the days when the tents were clustered around Yarrowee Creek, when the night of infant Ballarat was disturbed by shooting. A procession of blue-shirted diggers passes, desperado and college graduate side by side, impelled on by one thing-the wonder gleam of virgin gold. Or the 40th is marching into Bendigo, with dust on red coats and pipe-clay; the bayonets flash in the sun, and with a preliminary roll of drums the band breaks into a march. Mr. Maddern can talk of many men and many things. Born at Falmouth 82 years ago, he came when 14 years of age to South Australia, with his father. The glamor of gold held sway over the minds of all men, for Golden Point was already a name in the history pf Victoria. So finding a mate, the elder Maddern departed for the goldfields, taking with him his son.
To Golden Ballarat.
"I was 16 years of age when we left Adelaide in the Thelma," Mr. Maddern told an interviewer. "When we arrived at Geelong we decided to make for Ballarat. Carriers were running horse waggons to the diggings, and securing a cradle and other things we thought necessary, we started, walking by the side of the conveyance. The track was good in those days. At night we would throw a tarpaulin over the shafts and sleep under it or under the waggon itself. We were three or four days on the road, and then we arrived at Ballarat. We pitched our tent on the hill near Golden Point and made rough stretchers to sleep upon. Our tub served as a table. All the claims were taken up round Golden Point, so I volunteered to go into the creek and dig. We only worked there a week, and we obtained about four or five ounces. There were some rough characters in Ballarat and robberies were frequent. After dark you could hear guns going off. I remember one night some police came to our tent, escorting a man who had been frightfully battered about the face and head. They were lookinig for his assailant. There were no public-houses in those days, but I daresay there was much sly grog selling. The man who enquired for a grog shop, however, took big risks of being mistaken for a spy and of being badly knocked about. One had to be introduced by someone, already a known customer. Officers came round to see our licenses on one occasion, but there was no trouble in collecting the fees in those early days. Gold sold for £2 11/ an ounce. : Rothschild had an agent on every field offering this price.
Too Superstitious.
"News came of the gold discovery at Forest Creek, where Castlemaine now stands. We joined in the rush, and soon had our tent on the new field. We sank a shaft, and had reached a depth of 6 or 8 ft., when the superstitious nature of my father's mate put a stop to our operations. "I'b not going to stop any longer," he said one morning. "I dreamt last night that my little boy was burnt to death, and I'm going back to Adelaide." He believed in dreams, and my father was foolish enough to give in to him. As they had started on this adventure together, so they decided to finish it; so we sold our tub and cradle and tools, and started on our journey to Melbourne. There were thousands of men going to the diggings in all manner of conveyances. Some were trudging along behind wheelbarrows. And we were going the wrong way; running away from fortune, for we learnt that the claim we abandoned turned out very rich. "What's that? Oh, the boy! Well, when we got back to Adelaide we found the little beggar running about playing with other children, and he's still alive.
A Find at Bendigo. "We decided upon another trip to the diggings, and formed a party of eight. We travelled to Melbourne in Captain Cadell's boat, the Queen of Sheba. This was in 1852 and we decided to make for Bendigo. Flour was worth £24 a bag on the fields, and so we bought four bags in Melbourne. Cartage cost £250 a ton, and between us we must have had about a ton of stuff. The weather was wet, and the roads boggy, and ten miles from Melbourne we were stuck. The waggon sank nearly to the axles in the mud, and two of our precious bags of flour were thrown away in order to lighten the load. At Bendigo we camped at Long Gully. Two parties were formed, and each sank a shaft. Some men would rob their own blood relations to get gold, and we found, after a time, that one party was robbing the other. There was a split; we sold everything and went our ways. Three of us then worked together, and we sank several holes. I was fossicking around one night, and found gold in an abandoned hole. That claim was only 16 ft. square, but we obtained nine pounds of gold, and at that time it was worth £40 a pound. There were all sorts of people on the diggings. Sailors would desert from ships and come seeking gold. The vessels were held up for months sometimes, as a seaman would require £60 or £70 before he would consent to make a voyage home. My father and my mate left me at Bendigo, and after I had worked at Eaglehawk and Pegleg I joined them again in Melbourne. We returned to Bendigo, and I was there when the Eureka fight occurred at Ballarat, in 1854. There was not much excite-ment on the Bendigo fields. The miners were discontented with the license law, however.
When the "Joes" were Out.
"I remember the digger hunts very well. The horse police would form a cordon on each side of the gully, and the foot police would come up the centre. The cry of 'Joe! Joe!' would ring from one end of the gully to the other, and those who did not have licenses would scurry off, jump down their holes, and hide in the drives. The license fee was considered to be too great, and it was not everybody who found sufficient gold to pay it. And then all did not have the sense to save their gold when they got it. They were improvident. On one occasion I was without a license, and I heard the cry of 'Joe!' coming down the gully. I jumped into the hole I was working, and pulled down the rope. I heard the voice of a policeman, saying 'Come out of that, or I'll come down and get you out!' I kept quiet, and he went on shouting for some time, and then, apparently thinking the hole was empty, went away. If a digger was caught without a license he would be handcuffed like a criminal and fastened to a rope at the police camp. Then he would be brought before a magistrate and fined. If he could not pay the fine they would send him to work on the roads for two or three months. In a great many cases the fines were very heavy."
The Painter's Surprise.
In the early days a sea trip to Melbourne was not the enjoyable holiday voyage it is to-day. Mr. Maddern and his father, deciding upon a visit to Adelaide, sailed from Melbourne in the Asia. The boat was nearly wrecked off the Marino Rocks. The lure of the diggings once more asserting itself, the travellers secured a return pas-sage to the Victorian capital in the White Swan. Off Cape Northumberland two heavy seas took her and swept away the bulwarks. Water poured into the ship, and the fires were extinguished. Had an-other heavy sea followed she would assuredly have foundered. "The second mate came to us crying like a child," Mr. Maddern said. "He was frightened we would go down. We all had to get to work with buckets, and eventually we managed to make Melbourne." After more digging experience at Creswick Mr. Maddern found himself in Melbourne, without the pro-verbial cent. And now he became the spectator of an extraordinary comedy drama. Down Bourke-street one day came the wedding party of a successful digger. A well-known hotel was, for the time, an hospitable haven for the hungry who would condescend to drink to the health of the bride and bridegroom. Fate so ordained that on this particular day a painter was at work with pots and brushes upon the upper floor of the public-house. Come on, old man," said the exuberant bride-groom; "'join in." The painter descended his ladder and accepted the champagne proffered him. To the bride!" said some-one, and the painter gazed towards the blushing lady. "My wife!" he shrieked. All I saw then," remarked Mr. Maddern, "was a fleeing bride, pursued by her law-ful husband, with the disappointed bride-groom bringing up the rear."[1]

See also

Bendigo Goldfields Petition

Ballarat Reform League Inc. Monuments Project

Further Reading


  1. The Advertiser, 13 April 1917.

External links

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