The Eureka Flag: Our Starry Banner

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The Eureka Flag: Forum: 4 June 2016

On 4 June 2016 the Trades Hall, Ballarat, hosted a forum on the Eureka Flag. Speakers were Brett Edgington, Joseph Toscano, and Dorothy Wickham

The Eureka Flag: Our Starry Banner

Dorothy Wickham

Easy it is of law to prate

Then leave us to our chance and fate

No, no Sir Charles that will not suit

To toil all day, then watch to shoot

At night, the lawless gang …

We sure must be but brainless elves

To pay – then do the work ourselves.[1]

Ellen Frances Young when she wrote this stanza in 1854 was of course commenting on the cost of the gold licenses and the fact that this was taxation on work before any work had commenced.

The Gold Licence, and the mode of collecting it, meant that women, children and men were suffering.[2] The amount paid was 30/- per month or ₤18 per year, which was a large sum out of each gold miner’s earnings. Stephen Cummings, a gold miner and a witness at the 1855 Commission of Enquiry said that ‘The present system’, was ‘bad’ where ‘a man could be taken away from his family if he could not produce his licence’.[3] Magistrates made no distinctions between men of different circumstances. Martha Clendinning commented that ‘the gold tax was payable by every man on the field, no matter what his occupation was. The mode of collecting it was most trying and in fact insulting’.[4]

The licence question at Eureka was as important to women as it was to men. Most women were married and many were young with small children to feed. The gold licence was equivalent to around a month’s salary. It was a tax on work EVEN BEFORE work had begun.

Like Ellen Young many women had reasons to be vitally interested in the causes of Eureka. While many were undoubtedly aggrieved that neither they nor their husbands had a vote or representation in parliament, more central grievances and a more immediate sources of distress for families at Eureka were the high licence fee imposed by an authoritative officialdom, and the ruthless manner in which it was collected.[5]

Elizabeth Grant who lived on the Eureka Lead got up a petition after her husband was charged and given 2 months gaol for not having a licence on him in his own name. A few days before he had bought a licence from a digger who was leaving Ballarat.

Elizabeth’s petition claimed that the couple had been on hard times and had found little gold in their six months at the diggings. She had recently been confined of a son, George Grant on 1 September. Governor Charles Hotham when he received the petition begging for “merciful consideration” knew Elizabeth had two small mouths to feed. Hotham coldly replied “I never interfere with sentences – culprit [James Grant] knew the law and risked imprisonment. Elizabeth and her two children were then left destitute – there was no social service in those days – and they had to rely on the charity of others.

It was incidents like this, the costs of the gold and business licences, and the vicious licence hunts that incensed men and women living on the diggings.

And so the Ballarat Reform League was formed, and rallies in the form of Monster Meetings were organized in protest against the unjust taxes and systems of collecting them.

Reports claimed that around 10,000 people were present at each ‘Monster Meeting’ of the Ballarat Reform League on 11 and 29 November 1854, these being ‘quiet and orderly’ occasions with flags and music ‘adding to the effect of the affair’.[6]

At the first Monster Meeting on 11 Nov the ensigns hoisted to alert people of the meeting were British and American. The Ballarat Times reported that: Bakery Hill is obtaining a creditable notoriety as the rallying ground for Australian Freedom. It must never be forgotten in the future history of this great country on Saturday November 11th 1854 on Bakery Hill, and in the presence of about 10,000 men, was first proposed, and unanimously adopted the draft prospectus of Australian independence. We refer to that of the Ballarat Reform League. During the early part of Saturday men were busily prepared in erecting a large platform capable of accommodating 50 men, and by half past 2 had work completed when the Union Jack and American ensign were hoisted as signals for the people to assemble.

Between 11 November and 29 November the Eureka Flag was made. There are several grounds to suggest that women may have sewn the Eureka Flag, although a couple of these stories are contested.[7] The significance of the story of women sewing the flag consolidates the notion that they were active and perpetuates the idea that they supported their men on the Eureka goldfields.

The Flag is constructed from several pieces of very fine blue woollen fabric, which has a high sheen (it could have looked silvery in the sunlight of early December). Pieces of cotton twill have been used for the cross, and pieces of fine cotton lawn, often also used in women’s petticoats, were used for the stars.[8] The quality of the flat felled seams and the fineness of the stitching suggests that women sewed the flag, and close analysis of the exemplary hand stitching indicates the many people assisted in the work, as changes in needlework style have been identified.[9]

Historian Withers reported that ‘the diggers’ flag was made’ by two women, a Mrs Morgan and Mrs Oliver.[10] ‘But all they seem to know is that they made a flag to somebody’s order in the usual way of their business at that time.’[11] Another family named Withers has passed down an account which maintains that three women sewed the Flag.[12] Evidence that dressmaker, Anastasia Withers, the mother of young children, and pregnant with another child, may have helped sew the flag came to light in the early 1970s Testimony from the Gaynor-Duke family history suggests that Anne Duke sewed the stars on the Eureka flag.[13] According to the Age Anastasia Hayes was also one of the trio of women who sewed the Eureka Flag.[14] Her obituary noted that she was ‘acquainted with the leaders of that movement [Eureka]’ and that she ‘took a prominent part in the most stirring times conducted with the history of Ballarat’.[15]

At the second Monster Meeting of the Ballarat Reform League on 29 November 1854 the Flag of the Southern Cross was flown for the first time.

The Ballarat Times of 30 November 1854 reported that: During the whole of the morning several men were busily employed erecting a suitable stage, and planting the flagstaff. This is a very splendid pole of about 80 feet, and straight as an arrow. This work being completed about 11 o’clock, the Southern Cross was hoisted, and its maiden appearance was a fascinating object to behold. There is no flag in Europe, or in the civilized world half so beautiful, and Bakery Hill, as being the place where the Australian ensign was first hoisted, will be recorded in the deathless and indelible pages of history. The flag is silk, blue ground with large silver cross; no device or arms, but all exceedingly chaste and natural. At one o’clock there were about 12,000 men present and at two the business of the day commenced.

The people present at the ‘Monster Meetings’ on the Eureka Lead resolved that ‘it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws that he is called upon to obey – that taxation without representation is tyranny’.[16] They solemnly knelt and with hands raised towards their new flag, the flag of the Southern Cross, they swore ‘to stand truly by each other and fight to defend their rights and liberties’.[17]

A universal well-rounded “Amen” was the determined reply. … The earnestness of so many faces of all kinds, of shape and colour, the motley heads of all sorts of size and hair; the shagginess of so many beards of all lengths and thicknesses; the vividness of double the number of eyes electrified by the magnetism of the Southern Cross, was one of those grand sights.” So wrote the local paper The Ballarat Times.

The flag of the Southern Cross, our Eureka Flag, is more than just a flimsy piece of cloth. It is an iconic symbol of democracy and freedom, of united resistance, of people, men AND women uniting to fight perceived injustices.

After Eureka the ideals of liberty, freedom and equality lived on in the Australian psyche.

Clara Seekamp took over the editorials of the Ballarat Times when her husband Henry Seekamp was arrested for Sedition in 1854. Clara’s editorials were described by The Argus on at least one occasion, as outspoken, startling in tone, and liberal and energetic in their use of words such as “sedition”, “liberty” and “oppression”. The Argus expressing its sentiments on 31 January 1855 hoped that Ballarat would soon be free of the influence of a free press petticoat government. It was hoped that a lenient sentence would be given to Mr Seekamp, who had been charged with sedition, to enable his quick return “to his editorial duties” at his Ballarat newspaper.

Ellen Young continued to write stirring poems and letters to the local newspaper supporting the miners’ cause.

The Ballarat Reform League developed into a new organisation, the Victorian Land League, its emblem still being the Southern Cross and its motto ‘Advance Australia’. It then became involved in opening up the lands, and was involved in land reform.

The battle at Eureka had a profound effect on the Colony of Victoria. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne called a meeting to support the government, but this was taken over by the majority who supported the Ballarat diggers and on 6 December a ‘Monster Meeting in Melbourne declared that the unconstitutional proceedings of the miners had been due to provocation, and condemned the whole policy of the government’.[18] On the same day in Ballarat there was a huge meeting at Bakery Hill which reinstated the ‘moral force’ leader, John Basson Humffray as leader of the Ballarat Reform League, in the absence of Peter Lalor. The goldfields administration was subsequently overhauled and revised. Although many of the political demands put forward by the Ballaarat Reform League such as manhood suffrage had been drafted and conceded almost twelve months before the Eureka Affair, a Royal Commission was set up in 1855 to investigate the miners’ grievances. The recommendations of the Commission were such that the administration of the goldfields was abolished, and the goldfields commissioners were replaced with locally elected Courts of Mines, the first being formed at Bakery Hill in mid 1855. The miners’ licence was abolished in 1855 and replaced by a miners’ right, which allowed the miner to both dig for gold and to vote. Importantly, the authorities were challenged because of the Eureka Affair, and more radical political changes were enacted than would otherwise have been the case.[19]

The flying of the Southern Cross, The Eureka Flag, united the people of the goldfields under a common cause. The Flag is symbolic of the concepts of JUSTICE, of Liberty, Freedom and Equality that surfaced at Eureka. THAT is why the Eureka Flag is important and THAT is what the Flag stands for.

Also See

Susannah Morgan

J.B. Humffray


  1. Katrine A. Kelly, Ellen Frances Young, p. 37.
  2. Q50 and Q175, Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the conditions of the Gold-fields of Victoria, Minutes of Evidence, Vic. V. & P. (l.C.), 1854-5, ii, pp. 3, 11.
  3. Evidence of Stephen Cummings, p. 39, Question 728, Victorian Parliamentary Papers. "Gold Fields' Commission of Enquiry”. A. no. 76/ 1854-55.
  4. Martha Clendinning, "Recollections of Ballarat: Lady's Life at the Diggings Fifty Years Ago," The Leader, 10 February 1906, 17 February 1906, 24 February 1906, 3 March 1906, 10 March 1906, 1906.
  5. Q50 and Q175, Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the conditions of the Gold-fields of Victoria, Minutes of Evidence, Vic. V. & P. (l.C.), 1854-5, ii, pp. 3, 11.
  6. MacFarlane, Eureka from the Official Records, pp. 194 – 195; The Illustrated London News, 25 November 1854, p. 587.
  7. Dorothy Wickham, Clare Gervasoni, and Val D'Angri, The Eureka Flag: Our Starry Banner (Ballarat: Ballarat Heritage Services, 2000), pp. 24-48; Len Fox, Eureka and Its Flag (Melbourne: Mullaya, 1973), p. 53.
  8. Opinions expressed by Val D’Angri. Mrs May Flavell an 86 year old relative of Val D’Angri had been told by her grandmother, Anastasia Catherine Withers, that she had been one of three women who made the Eureka Flag. Wickham, Gervasoni, and D’Angri, The Eureka Flag, p. 55.
  9. Opinions expressed by Val D’Angri; Wickham, Gervasoni, and D’Angri, The Eureka Flag, p. 57.
  10. William Bramwell Withers, History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences Ballarat: Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999, pp. 237-245.
  11. Withers, History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences, p. 243. Mrs Morgan and Mrs Oliver attended the exhibition of the Eureka FlagLink title at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery around 1877 and claimed to have sewn a flag for the insurgents but declared that the one shown in this exhibition (and now currently exhibited in the Art Gallery), was not the flag they made. They described the flag they made as having the Lone Star of Texas in the centre and possibly the Stars and Stripes in one corner.
  12. Vivienne R. Worthington, Anastasia Woman of Eureka (Self Published, 2005), pp. 1-3.
  13. G. B. Coleman, Family History Notes; Laurel Johnson, Women of Eureka (Ballarat: Historic Montrose Cottage and Eureka Museum, 1995), pp. 9-10.
  14. Age, 24 November 1994.
  15. Ballarat Star, 7 April 1892.
  16. This resolution was similar to the universal suffrage sought by the British Chartists years earlier in Britain. See Ballarat Times cited in The Age 23 November 1854, p. 6; Launceston Examiner 5 December 1854; MacFarlane, Eureka from the Official Records, pp. 11, 28-29, 77; Corfield, Wickham, and Gervasoni, The Eureka Encyclopaedia, pp. 33-34.
  17. The Ballarat Times, 22 October 1854; 11 November 1854; 18 November 1854.
  18. Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics: A Study of Eastern Australia 1850-1910 , p. 30.
  19. Moloney, Eureka, pp. 202-208.