The Eureka Rebellion in 1854 was a rebellion of gold miners in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, who revolted against the colonial authority of the United Kingdom. The Battle of the Eureka Stockade, by which the rebellion is popularly known, was fought between miners and the colonial forces of Australia on this date in 1854 at Eureka lead mines, and named for the stockade structure erected by miners during the conflict. The rebellion lasted for less than half an hour and resulted in the deaths of at least 27 people, the majority of whom were rebels.
The event was the culmination of a period of civil disobedience in the Ballarat region during the Victorian gold rush with miners objecting to the expense of a miner’s license, taxation via the license without representation and the actions of the government, the police and military. The local rebellion grew from a Ballarat Reform League movement and culminated in the erection by the rebels of a crude battlement, and a swift and deadly siege by colonial forces.
Mass public support for the captured rebels in the colony’s capital of Melbourne when they were placed on trial resulted in the introduction of the Electoral Act 1856, which mandated full white male suffrage for elections for the lower house in the Victorian parliament, the second instituted political democracy in Australia. As such, the Eureka Rebellion is sometimes identified with the birth of democracy in Australia and interpreted by some as a political revolt.
Hiscock’s gold rush began on 12 August 1851 following the publication in the Geelong Advertiser of Thomas Hiscock’s gold findings at Hiscock’s, 3 km west of Buninyong (now Magpie, approximately 10 km south of Eureka). Just days later on 16 August 1851, Lieutenant-Governor Latrobe proclaimed in the Government Gazette crown rights for all mining proceeds and a license fee of 30 shillings per month effective from 1 September 1851.
On 26 August, a rally of 40-50 miners opposing the fee was held at Hiscock’s gully – the first of many such protests in the colony. The miners opposed government policies of oppression including the license fee and demanded rights to vote and to buy land. This first meeting was followed by dissent across the colony’s mining settlements.
In December the government announced that it intended to raise the license fee to £3 a month, from 1 January 1852. This move incited protests around the colony, including the Forest Creek Monster Meeting of December 1851. In Ballarat, historian Weston Bate noted that diggers became so agitated that they began to gather arms. The government hastily repealed its plans due to the reaction. Nevertheless, oppressive license hunts continued and increased in frequency causing general dissent among the diggers. In addition, Weston Bate noted that the Ballarat diggings were in strong opposition to the strict liquor licensing laws imposed by the government.
On 6 October 1854, Scottish miner James Scobie was murdered at the Eureka hotel. Ten days later, on 17 October 1854, between 1,000 and 10,000 miners gathered at the hotel to protest the acquittal of James Bentley, the hotel proprietor and prime suspect in Scobie’s murder, by a corrupt magistrate. The miners rioted and Bentley and his wife Catherine fled for their lives as the hotel was burnt down by the angry mob. A small group of soldiers were unable to suppress the riot.
On 22 October 1854, Ballarat Catholics met to protest the treatment of Father Smyth. The next day, the arrests of miners McIntyre and Fletcher for the Eureka Hotel fire provoked a mass meeting which attracted 4,000 miners. The meeting resolved to establish a ‘Digger’s Rights Society’, to protect their rights. On 1 November 1854, 3,000 miners met once again at Bakery Hill. They were addressed by Thomas Kennedy, Henry Holyoake, George Black and Henry Ross. The diggers were further angered by the arrest of another seven of their number for the Eureka Hotel fire.
On Saturday, 11 November 1854 a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 miners gathered at Bakery Hill, directly opposite the government encampment. At this meeting, the Ballarat Reform League was created, under the chairmanship of Chartist John Basson Humffray. Several other Reform League leaders, including Kennedy and Holyoake, had been involved with the Chartist (voting reform) movement in England. Many of the miners had past involvement in the Chartist movement and the social upheavals in Britain, Ireland, and continental Europe during the 1840s.The Ballarat Reform League sought to negotiate with Commissioner Robert Rede and the Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham.
In setting its goals, the Ballarat Reform League used the British Chartist movement’s principles. The meeting passed a resolution “that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.” The meeting also resolved to secede from the United Kingdom if the situation did not improve.
Throughout the following weeks, the League sought to negotiate with Commissioner Robert Rede and the Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, both on the specific matters relating to Bentley and the Scobie’s death, and the men being tried for the burning of the Eureka Hotel, and on the broader issues of abolition of the license, suffrage and democratic representation of the gold fields, and disbanding of the Gold Commission. Governor Hotham, on 16 November 1854, appointed a Royal Commission on goldfields problems and grievances. However, Commissioner Rede, rather than hear miner’s grievances, increased the police presence in the gold fields and summoned reinforcements from Melbourne.
On 28 November 1854, the reinforcements marching from Melbourne were attacked by a crowd of miners. A number were injured and a drummer boy was allegedly killed. The rumor of the drummer boy’s death was perpetuated, even with a memorial erected to him in Ballarat Cemetery for many years, although historical research has shown that the boy, John Egan, continued military service until dying in 1860.
At a meeting of about 12,000 ‘diggers’ on the following day, (29 November), the Reform League delegation relayed its failure to achieve any success in negotiations with the authorities. The miners resolved on open resistance to the authorities and to burn the hated licenses. Rede responded by ordering police to conduct a license search on 30 November. Eight defaulters were arrested, and most of the military resources available had to be summoned to extricate the arresting officers from the angry mob that had assembled. This raid prompted a change in the leadership of the Reform League, to people who argued in favor of ‘physical force’ rather than the ‘moral force’ championed by Humffray and the old leadership.
In the rising tide of anger and resentment amongst the miners, a more militant leader, Peter Lalor, was elected. In swift fashion, a military structure was assembled. Brigades were formed, and captains were appointed. Licenses were burned, and on 1 December at Bakery Hill, the disaffected miners held a meeting where at the Australian flag of independence was solemnly consecrated and vows made for its defense, with the ‘Eureka oath’ being sworn by Peter Lalor to the affirmation of his fellow demonstrators, who encamped themselves around the flag to resist further license hunts and harassment by the authorities: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.”
The white and blue Eureka Flag, said to be designed by a Canadian miner, “Captain” Henry Ross, and bearing nothing but the Southern Cross, was then flown for the first (recorded) occasion; according to the Ballarat Times, which first mentioned the flag a week earlier on 24 November 1854, at “about eleven o’clock the ‘Southern Cross’ was hoisted, and its maiden appearance was a fascinating object to behold.” The Eureka flag was commonly referred to at the time as the “Australian flag,” and as the Southern Cross, with The Age variously reporting, on 28 November: “The Australian flag shall triumphantly wave in the sunshine of its own blue and peerless sky, over thousands of Australia’s adopted sons”
During 2 December, the peak rebel force trained in and around the stockade. A further 200 Independent Californian Rangers, under the leadership of James McGill, arrived about 4pm. They were armed with revolvers and Mexican knives, and possessed horses. In a fateful decision, McGill decided to take most of the Californian Rangers away from the stockade to intercept rumored British reinforcements coming from Melbourne. Rede’s spies observed these actions. That night many of the miners went back to their own tents after the traditional Saturday night carousing, with the assumption that the Queen’s military forces would not be sent to attack on a Sunday. A small contingent of miners remained at the stockade overnight, which the spies reported to Rede.
The stockade itself was a ramshackle affair which was hastily constructed over the following days from timber and overturned carts. The structure was never meant to be a military stockade or fortress. In the words of Lalor: “it was nothing more than an enclosure to keep our own men together, and was never erected with an eye to military defence”. Lalor had already outlined a plan whereby, “if the government forces come to attack us, we should meet them on the Gravel Pits, and if compelled, we should retreat by the heights to the old Canadian Gully, and there we shall make our final stand”.
By the beginning of December, the police contingent at Ballarat had been joined and surpassed in number by soldiers from British Army garrisons in Victoria, including detachments from the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment of Foot and 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot. At 3 am on Sunday, 3 December, a party of 276 soldiers and police, under the command of Captain John W. Thomas approached the Eureka Stockade and a battle ensued.
There is no agreement as to which side fired first, but the battle was fierce, brief, and terribly one-sided. The ramshackle army of miners was hopelessly outclassed by a military regiment and was routed in about 10 minutes. During the height of the battle, Lalor was shot in his left arm, took refuge under some timber and was smuggled out of the stockade and hidden. His arm was later amputated. Stories tell how women ran forward and threw themselves over the injured to prevent further indiscriminate killing. The Commission of Inquiry would later say that it was “a needless as well as a ruthless sacrifice of human life indiscriminate of innocent or guilty, and after all resistance had disappeared.” Early in the battle “Captain” Henry Ross was shot dead.
According to Lalor’s report, fourteen miners (mostly Irish) died inside the stockade and an additional eight died later from injuries they sustained. A further dozen were wounded but recovered. Three months after the Eureka Stockade, Peter Lalor wrote: “As the inhuman brutalities practiced by the troops are so well known, it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. There were 34 digger casualties of which 22 died. The unusual proportion of the killed to the wounded, is owing to the butchery of the military and troopers after the surrender.”
During the battle, trooper John King the police constable, took down the Eureka flag. By 8 am, Captain Charles Pasley, the second in command of the British forces, sickened by the carnage, saved a group of prisoners from being bayoneted and threatened to shoot any police or soldiers who continued with the slaughter. 114 diggers, some wounded, were marched off to the Government camp about 2 km away, where they were kept in an overcrowded lock-up, before being moved to a more spacious barn on Monday morning. Of the soldiers and police, six were killed, including Captain Wise. Martial law was imposed, and all armed resistance collapsed. News of the battle spread quickly to Melbourne and other gold field regions, turning a perceived Government military victory in repressing a minor insurrection into a public relations disaster. Thousands of people in Melbourne turned out to condemn the authorities, in defiance of their mayor and some Legislative Councillors, who tried to rally support for the government.
Because of massive public sympathy for the diggers, those arrested and tried for sedition were either found not guilty by juries or received light sentences if found guilty. When Hotham’s Royal Commission report, initiated before the conflict, was finally handed down it was scathing in its assessment of all aspects of the administration of the gold fields, and particularly the Eureka Stockade affair. According to Blainey, “It was perhaps the most generous concession offered by a governor to a major opponent in the history of Australia up to that time. The members of the commission were appointed before Eureka…they were men who were likely to be sympathetic to the diggers.”
The report made several major recommendations, one of which was to restrict Chinese immigration. Its recommendations were put into effect only after the Stockade. The gold licenses were then abolished, and replaced by an annual miner’s right and an export fee based on the value of the gold. Mining wardens replaced the gold commissioners, and police numbers were cut drastically. The Legislative Council was expanded to allow representation to the major goldfields, and Peter Lalor and John Basson Humffray were elected for Ballarat, although there were property qualifications with regards to eligibility to vote in upper house elections in Victoria until the 1950s. After 12 months, all but one of the demands of the Ballarat Reform League had been granted. Lalor and Humffray both enjoyed distinguished careers as politicians, with Lalor later elected as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria.
Kangaroo meat was, and is, common in the goldfields region of Victoria – once a cheap source of meat. It’s not so cheap any more, but fairly easy to find in Australia, though rare outside. Kangaroo tail soup or stew is an obvious variant of oxtail soup/stew which is an old favorite of mine. A kangaroo’s tail is extremely important for balance and support, and is big and muscular. So, as with oxtail, the meat can be very tough and requires long slow cooking. This recipe of mine can be used for either kangaroo tail or oxtail. I used to cook oxtail all the time when it was considered trash food that no one wanted, and so was dirt cheap. Then gourmets got hold of the fact that tail meat is super tasty and prices skyrocketed. You have to love market forces.
Oxtail or Kangaroo Tail Soup/Stew
The tail should be jointed in fat sections. Use a large, heavy stockpot to brown the joints thoroughly in batches. Cover the joints with stock, add carrots, onions, celery and potatoes, and simmer, covered, for 3 to 4 hours. Your aim is to cook the meat until it falls from the bone and the vegetables are mush. Refrigerate over night.
In the morning, remove the congealed fat from the top of the pot. The stock should be thick and jellified. Heat the pot gently on the stove until the stock has liquefied and warmed through. Remove the tail bones, and keep heating the stock to a gentle simmer. Strip all the meat from the tail bones. With a potato masher, mash all the vegetables in the stock until it is thick and homogenous. Keep heating, and return the meat to the pot. Flavorings are cook’s choice. I generally add nothing but freshly ground black pepper. Some cooks add pot herbs such as parsley and thyme, plus a glass of Madeira or Port. Serve with crusty bread and a fresh green salad.