Eureka 50th anniversary Prize Winning Essay

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(From the Stockade Jubilee Prize Essay in the Recent A.N.A. Competition.) by J. B. Castieau, Melbourne
"Remember the Sabbath Day (December 3 1854) to keep it holy."
Carboni Rafaello. (Raffaello Carboni)
Even before the discovery of Ballarat, practically the first Victorian goldfield which presented a new population problem to the authorities Governor La Trobe (Charles LaTrobe) realised that he must be prepared for extraordinary events. He therefore followed the policy of New South Wales, the first available, for he was not a man of nerve and bold initiative. A proclamation, asserting the right of the Crown to all gold found on common lands, was followed on the 18th August, 1851, by an announcement that, commencing from 1st September, persons would be authorised to dig for that gold if provided with a licence costing 30s. a month to keep alive.
These Acts of Administration, enforced as they were by the paraphernalia of armed police-aboriginals-sowed seeds of irritation at the very outset. An indignation meeting was held at which many references were made to Magna Charta, slavery, tyranny, and political rights. The language indicated not only intense irritation but also deep feeling. The outcome was a deputation to the Commissioners. These officers intimated that they had not made the law; they could not unmake it; but it was their sole duty to enforce it. So, with the shadow of the black troopers over them, the diggers grudgingly and somewhat shamefacedly complied with the obnoxious regulations.
By the time La Trobe met his first Legislative Council on 11th November, 1851 the goldfields all over Victoria had become so extensive as to make them the most pressing subject of legislative concern. The Governor announced to the Council that, although £14,000 had been collected in licence fees during two months, the Government expenses exceeded. that sum. In a word, from the administrative point of view, the fields were not worth their cost. The Council, mostly composed of squatters, had little sympathy with the diggers. It determined that the difficulty should not be met by an increased general tax — the only right way out of the difficulty — but that the diggers should themselves pay for what they cost. So the licence fee was doubled! And while taxation was thus made twice as great, the political representation of those who had to pay it remained at nothing. The Governor proclaimed this first product of a plutocratic Legislative Council in all its crass crudity. Once more the embers of revolt leapt into fiery life. Every goldfield became a Runnymede, where miners assailed the Government with rough-tongued eloquence and claimed the charter of their citizen rights. The tax was extended beyond the actual diggers to every individual who resided on a goldfield, store-keepers, and tradespeople of all kinds. Unkindly as this was taken, it yet contained the only elemental germ of equity in the incidence of the tax.
Taxation without Representation.
Had the same principle only been extended to "every" resident of "Victoria," the tax would not have become so pregnant with disaffection, although the real grievance — taxation without representation — would still have remained in the breasts of the miners. As it was, however, the extension of the licence system converted the non-diggers from being only interested sympathisers with the diggers into being fellow victims with them and, ultimately, comrades in arms. Meanwhile wholesale merchants in Melbourne made fortunes out of the goods they imported to the fields, and were not taxed at all on that account. Not only that, but, by reason of their wealth, some of them actually became members of the Council, and, quite characteristically of the Australian legislative plutocrat, helped to pile burdens on the diggers so that they might escape themselves.
The outbreak of indignation on the goldfields became so menacing that the tremulous La Trobe was driven to the extreme of counting his soldiers so as to reckon probable results in the event of a resort to arms.
Flood of Immigration
Meanwhile the fame of the Southern Eldorado had spread to England, Europe Asia, and America, and a flood of immigration tumbled upon Victoria. During 1852 the population was increased by 94,000 new arrivals. England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Continent, America, and China all contributed their racial ingredients to this cosmopolitan plum pudding. Melbourne grew rapidly and provincial towns sprang up in the vicinity of every field and seaport. Victoria simply buzzed with excitement, and it was a strange pandemonium in which prosperity, poverty, crime, political activity, and the earnest founding of social institutions by far-seeing private citizens proceeded in a wild whirl, the outcome of which no prophet could definitely predict. The gold-adventurers continued to be treated like aliens. They were not the least encouraged to become constituents of a happy community. On the contrary, they were thwarted. They could not obtain land; they were unrighteously taxed; and they were harassed by a deliberately obnoxious officialdom.
So the mining population on every field remained in a simmer of discontent, which was made the most of by those liberty-loving spirits fresh from the hot-beds of Chartism and Continental revolution. These sturdy pioneers had come to Australia for freedom, and they were naturally the first to murmur when they did not find it. To them it was more precious than gold and it is well that there was a little leaven like this "to leaven the whole lump."
Not a Mere Local Eruption.
While Ballarat was growing and Eureka waa in the womb of events, constant agitations were disturbing other fields. It is necessary to trace them in order from 1852, so that it may be properly appreciated that Eureka Stockade was not the climax of a mere local eruption, but of a widespread disaffection. The Commissioners got into the way of "digger hunts." The young bloods who officered the aboriginal troopers regarded these excursions as a sport only inferior in ferocity to the slave chases immortalised in Uncle Tom s Cabin." Mere cubs as they were, ignorant, vicious, and often corrupt, they took a fiendish joy in humiliating the miners, many of whom were infinitely their superiors. Their behaviour was astounding, and it is almost un-believable that the authorities allowed it. Far more incredible is it that the diggers were so patient under it.
In February, 1853 at the Ovens diggings, a constable, seeking to dislodge from a claim some unlicensed miners, shot one of them dead. Something like a riot was provoked, and one or two ob- noxious officials were roughly handled. But the trouble soon subsided. News of it, however, spread to all the fields, and intensified the irritation which existed.
In July there was a more serious demonstration against the authorities, this time at Castlemaine, A police sub-inspector burnt down the shanty of a man accused by an informer of sly-grog selling. The stores of two other people, supposed to be implicated, were also destroyed, A Baptist minister protested against this outrageous method of vindicating the law and was threatened with arrest. Public feeling grow to white heat, but there was no violence committed. A few inflammatory placards appeared, that was all. Finally the informer got five years for perjury. The brunt of the blame, somewhat unjustly, fell on La Trobe, and the general discontent became concentrated in a definite agitation against his administration and the licence system.
In August Bendigo became the centre of the main movement. Meetings were held in Melbourne and passed resolutions regretting the disaffection spreading against the Government and attributing it to the fact that the goldfields residents were denied their "political and social rights."
First Australian Flag.
Shortly after a riot occurred at Warranga, owing to the arrest and attempted rescue of miners who had no licences.
Next day [Bendigo] arose in picturesque and potent protest. A procession of 4,000 miners carrying a Union Jack, the Irish flag, the French tricolour, the German revolutionary barnier, the Stars and Stripes, and the diggers' own flag, the first flag of Australia — the Southern Cross in silver on a blue ground — marched to interview the Commissioner. He gave them no satisfaction, but he confidentially advised La Trobe that the full licence fee could never again be collected. The Governor was once more vacillating. He was conciliatory, but stated that he could not remit the fee until the Council authorised the act. In due course, the Legislative Council met and continued the tinkering policy. Then the tired legislators went to sleep again or turned to look after their wool gathering. Mean-while Governor La Trobe's resignation had been accepted, and in May, 1853, he departed for England, broken in spirit, but yet beloved by the people whom he had tried to govern.
Eureka Stockade.
Up to this stage the Government had utterly failed to mentally grasp the gravity of the situation, and to grapple with it either firmly or intelligently. On the other hand the diggers had borne injustice, persecution, and insult with mared self-restraint and commendable patience. while exhausting all peaceful and mild means and measures to obtain bare justice. There seemed nothing left but a resort to arms, and it is at this point that the narrative comes within the significant shadow of Eureka Stockade.
Arrival of Governor Hotham.
When Governor Hotham arrived in Victoria, on June 21, 1854, he received a welcome which testified to the loyal inclinations of the people, who wished to remain true subjects of the Queen, but oligarchical Government and abominable administration had bred and bred again all the elements of revolution. It is really not saying too much to state that the majority of the people were ripe and ready for Republicanism. The presence of soldiers in the maintenance of law and order amongst civilians, an element always objectionable to Britishers, had inspired ill-temper against the imperial idea. Then the Government was held very closely within limits by the leading strings of the Colonial Office. The Legislative Council was largely composed of nominees of the Governor, himself an Imperial nominee. Any change in this state, of affairs seemed desirable and all the more so as the petty annoyances of the goldfields officials became daily more unendurable. In such circumstances human nature turns to contrasts and extremes, Thus the idea of Republicanism was attractive and seriously entertained. The Governor soon visited Ballarat, now the headquarters of discontent and the new, spirit of Democracy.
The citizens, including the miners, gave the new Governor a hearty and most hospitable reception. Hotham inspired hope, but it was disappointed. It was soon seen that a change of Governor did not mean a change of advisers. The old policy of "laissez-faire" was pursued. Sir Charley conveyed to the Colonial Office his impressions of the goldfields population in three comprehensive terms:— "The mass of the diggers are true-hearted and loyal men, who, if well treated, may be depended upon; and all are interested in upholding law and order." Yet these very men continued to be not "well treated" ; and, moreover, they had awakened to a big sense of their citizen rights and political potentiality. The agitation continued against the license fee and the ob- noxious methods of enforcing its conditions. But Hotham gave no promise of immediate reform.
There were other pin-prick pests which kept the diggers in a state of irritable unrest. La Trobe had forbidden the sale of liquor on the goldfields. The result was sly-grog selling, accompanied by persecution of lawbreakers, who would not pay the price of police connivance. Then the Chinese question arose. An attempt was made to drive the Mongolians out of the diggings but authority, always thwarting the miners, sided with the Chinese, and the movement fiascoed. Finally came the vital influence which was to fan the smouldering fire of disaffection into furious flame—the arrest and sentence of three obviously innocent miners who were made the scapegoats by the police for the burning of the Eureka Hotel, whose landlord Bentley, was suspected of murdering Scobie, a newly- arrived Scotchman. A mass meeting of miners deputed George Black, editor of the "Digger's Advocate"; Thomas Kennedy, a Chartist Scotsman; and John B. Humffray, secretary of the Ballarat Reform League, to wait upon the Governor and demand the release of the prisoners. Hotham dismissed the deputation.
Licence Papers Destroyed.
The delegates were received on their return to Ballarat on Wednesday, 29th November, 1854 by a meeting of 10,000 indignant miners, gathered around a platform, above which floated the Australian flag, a Southern Cross in silver stars upon a sky-blue ground. Fiery speeches followed. It was resolved that all licences be burned, a resolution no sooner decreed than done. Fire sprang up all over the place and licences were tossed contemptuously into them. It was then agreed that if a single man were arrested for not having a licence, all should unite in his defence.
Next day the authorities, in retort, ordered a "digger hunt." Several were arrested for failing to produce their licences. This was the gage of battle, and the diggers immediately took it up. At 8 o'clock in the afternoon a meeting was held at Bakery Hill. The Australian flag was once more the rallying point. Peter Lalor, gun in hand, presided. He called upon the miners to arm and drill. A small army of 500 men immediately sprang into being. Later on all prepared to fight, bared their heads beneath the flag and took the following oath:
"We Swear by the Southern Cross."
"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.—Amen!" Squads of miners commenced to drill. The erection of the Stockade was started. That very night the palisaded enclosure was occupied by 800 men armed with guns pistols, and pikes.
A final effort was made to effect a peaceful settlement. A meeting was held and George Black and Carbino Rafaello (Raffaello Carboni)were appointed a deputation to wait on the officials. They were indignantly received by Commissioner Rede, who described their movement as "a strong democratic agitation by an armed mob."
This rebuff only increased the ardour with which the diggers prepared for resistance. The Stockade was strengthened; drill was pushed forward. Four hundred miners from Creswick came in to reinforce the Stockade garrison. But there were neither arms nor accommodation for neither and next day they went home.
On the other side Hotham had despatched a force of infantry, artillery, and marines from Melbourne.
On Saturday morning the Stockade was busy. There was much marching and counter-marching, but there was no plan of campaign. It looked as if no immediate danger need be apprehended, and many miners went home, not to return. During the middle of Saturday the Stockade was entirely deserted. But later on 200 Californians in uniform and armed with revolvers appeared in the enclosure. Soon the Stockade was again occupied by a fair force. As night wore on, however, only 150 determined fighters remained in the garrison.
Fall of the Stockade.
Captain Thomas, in command of the police and military camp, resolved to take advantage of the situation. He ordered an attack on the Stockade for 3 o'clock on the morning of Sunday, the 3rd December. He led 276 men, military and police. They reached the Stockade as dawn was breaking. Alarm was given of their approach within 800 yards of the Stockade. The first shot was fired by the insurgents. It was answered with a volley. Then the fight began in deadly earnest. Lalor was conspicuously in command until picked off and wounded. Men fell on each side, some instantly killed. The end came in a bayonet charge. The diggers' defence was easily forced. Hand to hand fights took place, but, in ten minutes after the bugle call of "Charge!" had sounded, Eureka Stockade, the protest of a few brave spirits against a tyrannous authority, had fallen. The killed on both sides totalled 28, of whom 22 were diggers and 6 were soldiers.
Thus ended the Eureka Stockade. It had been a fizzle, yet had accomplished its big purpose. The persecution of diggers was at an end. The dawn of democracy had come with the first red streak of that Lord's Day sun upon the eastern sky, and the first crimson stain of blood spilt across the Stockade's palisades.
Significance of Events.
There was no malign motive underlying the maladministration which culminated in Eureka Stockade. There was no deliberate attempt by a few to make themselves a tyranny. The governing authorities were apathetic and aimless: not aggressive and self-seeking. In 1850 Victoria's population was 76,162, mostly pastoralists; in 1854 it was 812,307, mostly miners and tradesmen. But the system of government by the pastoralists for the pastoralists was not changed. It was pig-headedly persisted in. The aristocrats: refused to acknowledge that their aimable oligarchy had become impossible.
More Behind the Rebellion than the Gold Licence.
The gold licence became the battle cry of rebellion. But like the "lettre de cachet" of the French Revolution, ship money in King Charles's day, and the Tea Tax in America, there was very much more behind it. A Royal Commission, which sat immediately after the Stockade battle, reduced the causes of the trouble to three :—the violence with which the licence fee was collected, the locking up of the lands, and the deprivation of political rights from non-landholders.
It had never struck any person in power that big principles moved the miners. Yet it was often enough represented. The protest against taxation without representation was repeatedly made. But Chartism the bogey of the forties and the fifties, was suspected in the agitation and the dread of it seems to have paralysed the responsible powers. This, too, notwithstanding the fact that such reputable Melbourne citizens as Blair, O'Shanassy, Embling, Fawkner, McCulloch, and others supported the diggers. It will never cease to be a wonder and a regret that Victoria's Belshazzars not only had not a Daniel in their midst to decipher the writing on the wall, but were too blind to even see it. Revelation came when they tested their authority. No jury would convict a participant in the Eureka Calvary, and public opinion applauded every acquittal. There were to be no more martyrs.
The men of Eureka did not realise the full significance of the events in which they moved. So strong were they in sentiment, earnestness, enthusiasm, and in their thousands that they might have achieved a far advanced Democracy, which might have saved much of the weary work, worry, and wordy warfare of the ensuing fifty years, but the province of Eureka was but to install Democracy in the miner's cradle; not to present it to Australia in all the dignity and virility of complete development.
Summing up of Events.
Eureka produced no heroes. It was hardly an occasion for them. Names of men might, however, be recalled and recorded for the brand of infamy and shame. But they are best buried in oblivion. They were the goads who stung men of passion into action. They caused the sturdier spirits to break down the long-suffering patience which might have nursed wrong until it fathered an infinitely worse tragedy than that which was precipitated. For Eureka was precipitated. It is well it was. Had it not been, many a secret and foul crime might have prefaced the outbreak which was bound to be. The obstinate stupidity of the authorities gave no hope. Real obstinate stupidity will always stand as sufficient justification for Eureka Stockade.
There was never a revolution carried out in a more rational fashion. Just enough was done to carry conviction. It may truthfully be said that there was no desire for bloodshed on either side. But it seemed that obfuscated Bumbledom required a splash of blood to remind it that there was such a thing as life. It became imperative that the mental darkness of officialdom should be luridly illumined by a blood-letting of the oppressed. It had been too amply proved that nothing less would suffice.
If Eureka had no heroes it did not lack characters. Peter Lalor, who lived to be Speaker of Victoria's Legislative Assembly and to refuse knighthood was a man of such sterling merit that he could distinguish between heroism and heroics. He was a grim, determined leader, but with a sense of humour which saved him from the melodramatic. The most honorable badge he carried through life was that strangely dignified empty sleeve of his grey coat which told eloquently of the arm he lost at Eureka. Then there were Vern, Raffaello, Black, and one or two more, all conspicuous. And there were the dead. But no hero, absolutely none.
Finger-post of Australian Democracy.
Yet, without its hero, Eureka Stockade stands as the finger-post of Democracy in Australia. It was positively the first self-assertion of Australians to be treated as free-born citizens — subjects of Great Britain for preference, perhaps, but free- born citizens in spite of sentiment, prejudice, selfish interest, or any other poetical or sordid consideration. Eureka was much more that cannot be easily defined. It decided a community's point of view. The years immediately following it were filled with a splendid spirit of political aspiration and achievement in which the names of George Higinbotham and Graham Berry stand out amongst a phalanx of fighters for freedom and democratic ideals. Much that came might eventually have come. But had it not been for Eureka it would not have come so soon.
Australia can honestly and proudly cherish a sober and a noble memory of Eureka Stockade. It was a happening which proved that her pioneers of Liberty had patience under oppression, pluck under arms, and reasonableness in all things. Many a monument has been raised in Australia to infinitely inferior subjects. The monument worthy of Eureka has never yet been erected. Sculptured marble or brazen records of names are paltry compared with the exent. But, notwithstanding Eureka is immortalised in an eternally endurable medium — the heritage of Democracy and the blood which beats in Australian hearts, and will be transmitted to Australian posterity from generation to generation. The men who died for Democracy at Eureka did not die in vain.
"Full of a fever of fighting fervour
They fell upon the foe,
And with never a quiver of nerve, or A falter or fear of woe.
For they fought for Freedom, and fighting fell.
And their tally of fame old Time will tell !" [1]
  1. West Mail (Perth), 10 December 1904.
  2. Retrieved from ""