Be not misled!
The Eureka Stockade has nothing to do
with a republic or the Labor Party
but everything to do with the
Ultimate Supremacy of Law and Justice
Under The Crown
'Eureka', Greek for 'I have found it', made famous by Archimedes and adopted by the State of California as its motto. When gold was found near Ballarat in the newly formed Colony of Victoria, the finders no doubt shouted 'Eureka' and thus the new goldfields and the township and pub were appropriately named.
Ballarat, 110 k north west of Melbourne, had only been discovered by colonialists in 1837. Today it is Victoria's largest inland city, still boasting a statue of Queen Victoria at the front of the Town Hall!
It was a blacksmith, Thomas Hiscock, who first found gold in the district in 1851 which led to the first field being established at a place called Poverty Point. By the end of that year the sparsely populated area was flooded with 2,000 miners. The way in which most Governments in the world sought to control mining and prevent chaos was to appoint a Gold Commissioner and to issue licences to prospective miners.
The issuing of licences was not a problem. The magnitude of the fee levied of one and a half pounds per month was. Although following petitioning, the then Lieutenant Governor La Trobe reduced the fee to one pound a month or two pounds for three months, it was still considered to be too high and together with other issues led to the first and only armed insurrection ever to be held in Australia.
Within two years, despite the high licence fee, there were around 20,000 gold prospectors, around one quarter of whom were of Chinese origin with most of the others being migrants from various parts of the British Empire and the United States of America.
In 1853 alone, 9,926 kilograms of gold were transported to Melbourne, a massive amount which made many miners extremely wealthy. However, given the huge number of miners individually scraping for gold, the surface workings quickly ran out and expensive machinery was required to sink shafts. The natural progression was the establishment of mining companies which could provide the technology required and by 1865 there were some 300 mining companies in the area. It was these companies which helped to mine the massive quantity of 77,700 kilograms of gold sent to Melbourne during the three years commencing in 1854.
The huge influx of people to the Ballarat area, all seeking to make their fortunes, created grave problems in keeping law and order, particularly at a time when thirty eight out of Melbourne's forty police officers, resigned and rushed to make their fortunes on the gold fields.
It was reported in the Argus of 1851 that: 'No wonder that the small shop keeper was shutting up and abandoning his counter; no wonder that seamen were running away from their ships, printers from their type, doctors from their drugs. In fact everything has assumed a revolutionary character.'
The result of this progress was the shutting out of the individual miners most of whom were in any event in 1854 making insufficient to even feed and properly clothe themselves.
The loss of infrastructure manpower created an unprecedented inflation which meant that those miners who were unsuccessful, who were regrettably becoming the majority, could not afford to feed themselves or to pay the licence fees and consequently turned to crime targeting the successful miners and mining companies and particularly the gold runs to Melbourne. Drunkenness on the goldfields increased alarmingly with the average consumption of alcohol in the State increasing to 2.8 gallons per head per year.
Victoria had been created a Colony in 1851 and the 50,000 established inhabitants, petitioned for protection and it was incumbent on the Government and the Parliament to afford their citizens a security from the massive influx of immigrants. Furthermore the goldfields were attracting agricultural and industrial labour making it almost impossible to manage the State and to provide the essential services necessary for its survival.
The unfortunate consequence of the departure of the qualified police force and the recruitment of virtually anyone who applied resulted in a poorly trained and corrupt force which itself tended to rob and brutalise the miners.
The miners formed themselves into the Ballarat Reform League, the three leaders of which, G.E. Thomson, a Dr. Jones and 'Captain' Edward Brown (an Irish-born American) drafted a petition which set out the grievances and pleadings based around the licence fees, and expanded franchise and law and order issues.
Just over five thousand miners and others signed the petition which was presented to the Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe.
Charles Joseph La Trobe had been Superintendent of the Port Phillip District from 1839 and became Victoria's first Lieutenant Governor in 1851. It is obvious that he was sympathetic to the plight of the miners but his hands were tied by the Colonial Parliament which was dominated by Victorian landholders. Against their wishes, La Trobe utilised a part of the licence fees to employ police and to provide other essential services for the security of the miners.
However their unrest was greatly aggravated when one of them was murdered by a publican who, because of his friendship with local officials, was not committed for trial in spite of his obvious guilt. In retaliation the miners burned the publican's Hotel 'Eureka' to the ground. Sir Charles Hotham, the newly appointed Governor established an Inquiry whose findings caused him to sack the Magistrate and arrest the publican. He also organized a Royal Commission to report on the miner's grievances.
The miners of the tent township of Eureka comprised a multitude of nationalities, religions and political leanings. All combined to protest at the high licence fees they were required to pay. Some wanted a peaceful protest but a few, predominantly English hating Irish and Americans, advocated the sort of uprising that led to the creation of the United States of America. It is said that there were some 400 Americans in Ballarat, one of which, a Captain James McGill, formed the 200 strong American 'Independent Californian Rangers'!
On the 2nd December out of the tens of thousands of miners in Ballarat, only one thousand gathered in protest at what was termed a 'higgledy-piggledy' stockade which had just been erected a few days before. However when the majority learned of the ringleader's nefarious purpose, they quickly dispersed leaving fewer than two hundred miners in the Stockade, in fact one eye witness wrote that there were not more than seventy! In the words of this eyewitness, Joseph Jewkes, written in a diary now maintained in the Mitchell Library: 'Although many of the diggers connected with the stockade were activated, I have no doubt from honest motives arising from the unjust tax and the oppression brought to bear upon them, yet there were others acting from mere mercenary motives, their object being to plunder the (miner's) camp of the gold it contained.'
The Authorities could not allow this to occur, nor could they allow the insurgents to get hold of additional weapons as was planned and at 4 a.m. on the morning of the 3rd December 1854, with no other alternative, they attacked the stockade resulting in twenty two rebels and five soldiers being killed.
The person who had been left to lead the insurrection was a newcomer, Peter Lalor. Born in Ireland, Lalor had studied civil engineering at Trinity College but due to the potato famine migrated to Australia with his brother in 1852 and after a short period of labouring went into a partnership with another Irishman to establish a wine, spirits and provision merchandising firm. However in 1853 Lalor left Melbourne and in 1854 staked a claim on the Eureka fields.
Although Lalor was wounded he managed to escape. He eventually lost an arm. Of the miners who were captured or who surrendered, thirteen were committed to trial for High Treason, however twelve were acquitted and no action was taken against the remaining one. However the reward placed on Lalor's head was repealed in March 1855 following the report of the Commission which met after the insurrection, and in November of that year Lalor was elected unopposed to represent the miners in the Legislative Council of Victoria.
In 1856 Lalor stood for the Legislative Assembly and by an ironic twist of fate became Commissioner for Customs in 1875 and in 1880 was elected Speaker of the Parliament, a position he held until his death in America nine years later.
It is very easy today with hindsight to blame the Colonial Government but the fact was that people flocked to the area motivated by the desire to make their fortune and when they failed to find gold their greed was such that instead of moving elsewhere to find work, they stayed on the fields and blamed not themselves or bad luck, but the Government!
Today's history, written mainly from the side of Labor and the unions, portrays a vastly different scenario indeed with the Governor and the Authorities depicted as ogres and the miners as the totally innocent victims whereas neither is the case.
In 1852 the Rev'd John Dunmore Lang published his 'Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia' an argument for an independent Australian republic. Obviously some miners would have read this, but the matter of a republic was never a part of their campaign. Rather it was a stand against what they believed were injustices against them perpetuated by the squattocracy. Today we condemn the Victorian establishment of the time, but one must remember that these were pioneers of the new Colony who had worked long and hard to eke out an existence for their future. An existence which they found was threatened by the huge influx of miners.
The 3rd December 2004 will be the sesquicentenary of the Eureka insurgency and we will find the six State Governments, all ruled by Republican Labor, inappropriately spending taxpayers' moneys on celebrating Australia's first and only armed uprising. Unsurprisingly the Labor Government of Victoria have even appointed a Minister for Eureka, none other than the Victorian Arts Minister Mary Delahunty with a Eureka program funded to the tune of $1.9 million!
Those who participated in Eureka would be shocked to see how their stand has been hijacked by Labor's 'celebration', not of the principles of Eureka, which is the ultimate triumph of law and justice, but instead the dying embers of their breed of socialism and republicanism, both of which are totally alien to the original aims of the Eureka miners whose loyalty to The Crown was absolute and is made clear from the opening words of their petition: 'That your petitioners are the Loyal and Devoted Subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria the Sovereign Ruler of this Colony one of the dependencies of the British Crown.'
Furthermore, most accounts talk only about the miners flying the 'Eureka Flag' and make no mention that many carried the Union Jack as an expression of their loyalty to the Crown.
The Eureka flag itself is based on the Southern Cross and was designed by some miners under which they swore their final oath 'We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by one another and to fight to defend our rights and liberties.' This oath has nothing whatsoever to do with a republic or the Labor Party but was rather an appeal for British law and British justice to be implemented in their case. A law and a justice originally denied to them and abused against them by Australians in positions of authority but eventually granted to them by the Colonial Government. The comment that Eureka is the 'birthplace of Australian democracy' is also erroneous for moves had been well underway for over a decade before to entrench a constitutional democracy into the Colonies and it was these moves that prepared the way for eventual Federation.
Ben Chifley, Labor Prime Minister from 1945 to 1949 more succinctly expressed what Eureka and what the Eureka Flag was all about in the context of our Westminster system of democracy under The Crown when he said: 'If an idea is worth fighting for, no matter the penalty, fight for the right, and truth and justice will prevail.'
NSW Premier Robert Carr's comment in 1999 that Eureka was a 'protest without consequence' is typical socialist jargon. The story of the Eureka Stockade is a sad reflection on the injustices meted out, particularly to itinerants, in the mid nineteenth century but it is also an example of British justice and reform which was being entrenched into all Australian Colonies long before 1854, for not only did the jury system acquit twelve of those accused of High Treason, the Commission established by the Victorian Government just prior to the insurgency granted most of the reforms sought by the miners. The sad fact is that had the Government been more responsive to the miners' pleas when first presented, the loss of life and the tragedy suffered would never have occurred.
James Scullin, Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1929-1931 and Sir Henry Bolte, Victoria's longest serving Premier, were born of working class parents in the area. Both paternal and maternal grandparents of Sir Robert Menzies were migrant miners in the fields of Ballarat. That within a couple of generations their grandson could have risen to become Australia's greatest Prime Minister ever and that most of our political leaders and other great achievers have come from ordinary hard-working backgrounds, is the sort of thing that we should be celebrating rather than a tragic incident which arose out of chaos and man's greed for gold.