From edition

The Eureka Rebellion of 1854 by Eric Petersen

The Eureka Rebellion has an almost iconic status in dominant constructions of the Australian identity and nation. This year is its hundred and fiftieth anniversary and, accordingly, this offers a good opportunity to look again at some of its facts and myths.

Beginning at the End
On Sunday 3 December 1854, at 4 am in the morning, near Ballarat in Victoria, 300 state troops (two regiments of soldiers, followed by mounted and foot police) attacked the Eureka stockade, an area of about one acre, barricaded by timber slabs and dirt, which was defended by about 150 lightly-armed independent gold miners. After about fifteen minutes the troopers breached the stockade. About 30 of the stockaders, lacking guns, fought with pikes against muskets with bayonets to slow the government advance. This allowed many of the diggers to flee the stockade. The pikemen seem to have suffered the greatest proportion of casualties. The government assault soon killed, disabled, dispersed or arrested the stockaders. That was the end of the Eureka stockade. However, the Eureka rebellion continued for a few months afterwards, as we’ll see. A hundred and fifty years later, the Eureka rebellion has a double significance.

First the event is significant in itself. The stockade was the culmination of a major class struggle, fought between tax collectors and independent goldminers. The stockade culminated in a major military conflagration. The government’s aggression was in part a reaction to the wage increases being won by waged workers in the cities and towns. A recent article in the Australian Army’s newspaper said it was the last time that regular soldiers fired on civilians in Australia (probably true: the subsequent wars against Australian Aborigines were fought by police and private militias). The battle pushed the Australian colonies toward parliamentary forms of government with a wide franchise.

Second, the event is a source of symbols, myths, and ideologies. The Eureka stockade gives us the Eureka flag, first flown on the Ballarat goldfields four days before the battle. Irish goldminers gave us Australian Rules Football (but that’s another story). Recent newspaper articles have recycled some of the myths, which are at some distance from fact. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, many leaders of the ALP claimed to be continuing the Eureka Tradition. To rescue fact from myth, and create a proper foundation for measuring the significance of Eureka, we need to begin with some history.

Gold
       ‘What do you not drive human hearts into, cursed craving
       for gold!’                (Virgil, c.40 BC)

Lenin said that under socialism gold would be employed to pave the floors of public toilets, because that was all it was good for. But he was talking about a rational society. In an irrational society, based upon market relations, gold can be exchanged for food, buildings, wondrous products of human labour, whatever. Thus it inspires the playwrights and poets, Shakespeare for example:

‘Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious, gold. … Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair, wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant…. this will lug your priests and servants from your sides.’
(Timon of Athens 1607)

In February 1851 gold was discovered at Lewis Ponds Creek, near Bathurst in New South Wales. Many of the settler population, from priests to servants, were lugged from their masters’ sides by a gold rush. The masters of eastern Australia included the military caste, the urban merchants, and the large landholders running sheep or herding cattle – known as ‘squatters’ because they did not own their lands, but squatted on them for little or no rent. In 1851 the total non-indigenous population of Australia was about 200,000, only 3% of whom were enslaved convicts, because transportation of convicts to the mainland had stopped in 1840. The white masters of Australia faced a problem, which the gold rush exacerbated: a labour shortage.

Gold also attracted an influx of immigrants into Australia. However, most headed for the goldfields, so they did not solve the labour shortage. To make matters worse for the establishment, many of the immigrants had been influenced by British Chartism or the revolutionary and republican ideas that swept Europe in 1848.

The Colony of Victoria
Eastern Australia was occupied by two British colonies. Victoria became a separate colony from New South Wales in 1851, acquiring its own Governor and Legislative Council (subject to veto by the British Colonial Office). NSW had been founded as a British military base and penal settlement. However Victoria never imported convict labour, and was a squattocracy at its foundation. From 1836 to 1851, the Victorian squatters had taken over most of the useful land in Victoria, and removed the indigenous inhabitants. They elected 17 members of the 30-member Legislative Council. The Governor appointed another 10, and three were elected by Melbourne landowners (the population of Melbourne was about 80,000). As Victorian residents rushed north to NSW, the Victorian administration responded by attempting to lure them back by promising a £1,000 reward for the discovery of gold within Victoria. This did help produce discoveries, although not with the hoped-for effect. In July 1851 James Hargraves discovered gold 10 miles from Ballarat. George Wily discovered gold at Golden Point and Barkers Creek near Bendigo. In August 1851 John Regan and John Dunlop made further gold discoveries closer to Ballarat. Within days of the news reaching Geelong and Melbourne, thousands of diggers poured into the Ballarat and Bendigo goldfields (many of them departing from Melbourne). The Victorian gold rush attracted more people than the NSW one. By December 1851, 11,000 immigrants entered Victoria from South Australia and Van Diemans Land. Another 15,000 immigrants entered Victoria from Britain, Ireland, the United States, China, France, Italy, Germany and other corners of the globe. In 1852, 100,000 immigrants arrived in Australia. There were 22,000 people on the Victorian goldfields, half the male population of the colony (there were 46,000 males, 33,000 females). The ratio of women to men on the Ballarat goldfields was one to four. Women also prospected (at one stage 60 women were digging for gold on the goldfields), they raised children and did domestic labour in canvas tents and generally awful conditions, and they worked as milliners, shoe binders, cooks, nurses, prostitutes, brothel keepers, store keepers, and hotel keepers. From 1853 to 1855, another 250,000 immigrants travelled by sea to Australia. By 1854 Victoria had surpassed NSW in population, and production of wool and gold. The Victorian colony grew from a population of around 5,000 in 1839 to over 250,000 in 1854, over half the total white population.

The immigrant influx did not solve the labour shortage: they headed for the goldfields around Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine and Clunes. In both Victoria and NSW, wage workers evaporated from cities, towns, and farms; those that stayed had to be induced to do so by massive wage increases. In Victoria, stonemasons’ pay increased from 4 shillings a day in 1850 to 30 shillings a day in 1853. Carpenters’ daily pay increased from 4s to 25 shillings a day. Food prices also increased, but not as much, so real wages rose by about 300% in 3 years. Gold production, as well as population growth, was largest in Victoria. From 1851 to 1861, 20m ounces of gold, or 32% of world production, was mined in Victoria; 5m ounces of gold, or 8% of world production, was mined in NSW. This total volume of 25m ounces was then worth about £98m, or about £5 an ounce. In the following decade, 1861-71, after our story has ended, total Australian gold production was 19m ounces.

Mining Goes Underground
Victorian gold production at first was alluvial. The diggers’ basic tools were a pan, a cradle, and a puddling trough and they scratched and washed the stream beds and surface dirt to find, if they were lucky, half an ounce of gold a day. There was little surface gold at Ballarat and by late 1851, most of it had been extracted. The miners then left as quickly as they had arrived, rushing to Castlemaine and Bendigo, where larger deposits of surface gold were to be found. Ballarat was quiet until May 1853, when gold was discovered underground.

In September 1851 the Cavanagh brothers extracted 60 ounces of gold in two days at Golden Point (near Bendigo) by digging thirty feet into the ground. This was the beginning of underground goldmining which thereafter steadily increased in volume of output. Underground mining involved the slow and uncertain process of digging exploratory shafts down through layers of clay, silt and gravels to an ancient buried riverbed, called a ‘gutter’ or ‘lead’, up to 50 metres below the surface, where gold was concentrated. Most diggers worked in groups of two to four. One of the group would dig a shaft toward the lead, looking for ‘colour’. Another would be at the top of the shaft, raising and lowering buckets, and guiding fresh air down the shaft with a funnel-shaped sail called a ‘windlass’. Possibly another would be cutting wooden slabs to shore up the walls of the shaft, and another be washing ore to find the gold. As the digging proceeded, the surrounding trees were cut to provide slabs for supporting and shafts. Around the holes and windlasses appeared miners’ tents, and stores and grogshops.

Where’s Your Licence, Digger Dog?
Nearby all goldfields, there also appeared the state – also known as the ‘government camp’, also known as bluecoats (police) and redcoats (soldiers), also known as traps and troopers. In May 1851 the NSW government required goldminers to pay 30 shillings a month for a licence to mine gold (whether or not they found any). Squatters paid the same fee for 20 square miles of sheep station. Prospecting was prohibited, except for licensed miners within half a mile of the issuing government camp, headquarters of the local Gold Commissioner. In August 1851 the Victorian government followed the NSW government, requiring gold miners to purchase a licence costing 30 shillings a month. To enforce the licensing law, the Victorian government established a Gold Commission, under whose direction ‘the camp’ – the local Commissioner, Police Magistrate, mounted troopers (bluecoats) and soldiers (redcoats) – extracted licence fees from diggers. Licence fees in the year 1852 brought the NSW and Victorian governments a total revenue of £500,000. The licences read:

I hereby permit and authorise the bearer of this license to dig for gold on such crown lands as I shall assign for that purpose. This license must be carried on the person of the holder, and must be produced and shown to a commissioner or any policeman or government agent at any time, when demanded.

Any law is inseparable from the state machine that enforces it. It is necessary to say that the licence law was enforced by brutal methods. In 1852 the Victorian administration ordered the goldfields authorities to send mounted troopers on ‘regular and frequent searches’ for goldminers’ licences, operations known as ‘digger hunts’. From 1852 to 1854, ‘the camp’ constantly harassed, arrested and persecuted miners with digger hunts. The process has been recounted in many eyewitness reminiscences, and folksongs. The troopers would summon a miner to come up from the bottom of a deep shaft with the words: ‘Show me your licence you digger dog.’ This might happen several times in one day. Miners might be arrested for failing to produce on demand while they were bathing, or when their licence was a few yards away in a shirt pocket. If they gave any cheek, troopers arrested the miner for ‘insolence’ and later the magistrate fined them.

An arrested miner was typically handcuffed on the right wrist, and chained to the trooper’s horse, and dragged to a crude lockup or fastened to a tree for the night, being sometimes thrashed en route by the trooper’s sabre. They were not allowed to have legal representation, and unlicensed miners were fined £5 (or one month in the nick).

Why The Digger Hunts?
Within the state machine, some brutal behaviour follows logically from the brutal nature of that machine, even if it is not prescribed in standing orders. The gold rush depopulated the urban centres, stripped the squatters of their labour force, drove up wages, and emptied the state of much of its administration. Servants and priests were lugged from their masters’ sides. The country was flooded by immigrants who, moreover, remembered the democratic ambitions of the European revolutions. They had no respect for the aristocracy of Europe, and were generally opposed to the political rule and taxation policies of the aristocracy of Australia. Whenever the state loses its authority, it sets out to restore it with armed force. The state comprises post offices, baby health centres, and many things that are good for you. But the foundation, the spearhead, of the state is a disciplined body of armed men, serving the dominant mode of exploitation, and controlled by an autocratic chain of command.

The digger hunts were the state’s response to its loss of control, to the dislocation of existing ‘law and order’, and to the labour shortage. ‘Normal’ class relations were to be restored by brute force and intimidation. Arresting officers received half the £5 fine; hence they were motivated to go on digger hunts.

Goldminers Organise
From 1851 to 1854, Australian goldminers on the various goldfields organised and demonstrated against licence fees. The goldminers knew that the license fees had been approved by unrepresentative cliques in Legislative Councils. They were the only people taxed in Victoria, but they were excluded from government. Their fight against the fees led to demands for a wider franchise, and for democratisation.

Goldminers’ struggles began in late 1851, when Bendigo goldminers agitated to prevent a proposed rise in license fees. In October 1852, four thousand miners at Forest Creek met to demand better police and to denounce a proposed export duty on gold. In 1853, a thousand diggers on the Turon field (north of Bathurst) marched to protest against taxation without political representation. In July 1853, a Castlemaine protest meeting elected three men as ‘people’s commissioners’, in symbolic opposition to the Gold Commissioners.

The diggers’ organisations seem to have been unstable, subject to turnover as the miners moved from one diggings to another. Overall, the Bendigo diggers seem to have been the best organised. In August 1853, Bendigo diggers founded the Red Ribbon League, and said they wanted to pay only 10s/month for their licences. In Bendigo, virtually all the diggers wore red ribbons to show their support for the League. The Victorian Governor Latrobe responded by dispatching all his available military forces to Bendigo. Only sailors from a British warship remained to patrol the streets of Melbourne. At the same time, Latrobe sought a compromise with the Bendigo differs, offering them a token representative in the Legislative Council. Finally Governor Latrobe compromised, and cut the license fee to £1 a month or £8 a year. The Bendigo diggers continued their campaign, forming the Diggers Conference, to seek representation in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, and total abolition of the licence fee. In October 1854, shortly before the Eureka conflict, the Bendigo diggers resolved at a mass meeting that they would ‘never cease agitating until they all possessed all the rights, political and social, of British subjects’. By 1854, the Victorian state had built up police numbers, and imported troops from Britain and Van Diemen’s Land.

Tangent: Racism And Riots
In 1852 and 1853 there were anti-Chinese riots on some of the Australian goldfields. The worst riot occurred at Lambing Flat, NSW, in 1861. The riots were in part produced by the exhaustion of alluvial gold by late 1852. Many Chinese diggers were skilled at finding gold in fields, streams, and mullock heaps that Europeans had abandoned. However, as the alluvial gold ran out, many diggers’ dreams of getting rich evaporated. Enthusiasm turned to disappointment, and gold lust turned to bloodlust against the Chinese who were blamed for the gold running out. However, anti-Chinese racism was absent, or minimal, on the Ballarat goldfield. We are going to return there.

Back To Ballarat
In May 1853, gold was discovered near Ballarat in underground leads, from 80-150 feet below the surface. Large numbers of gold diggers soon flocked back. During the long and dangerous process of digging a shaft, the gold tax and the digger hunts weighed on the diggers. After months of excavating a shaft, miners might not find gold at the bottom, but they were nevertheless they were required to pay their monthly licence fee. Goldminers worked for themselves and the tax collectors, though not for a boss. Their mode of production made them at times antagonistic to each other. The miners’ licence fee bought the right to mine a claim measuring 12′ by 12′. At the lead, the shaft would be dug sideways, sometimes entering another group’s tunnel, and causing a blue about who was trespassing. Fights over claim jumping were endemic on the goldfields. Nonetheless, miners also pursued their common interests as an exploited class, being bled for a licence fee whether or not they found any gold in that period. They would warn each other of the approach of digger hunts by yelling ‘Joe’ (after Governor Joseph Latrobe). Some licensed diggers would run decoy, to lead the troopers on a merry chase while unlicensed diggers hid themselves. The teamwork of underground mining also increased miners’ solidarity, at least within their partnerships. By 1854, gold miners had an established tradition of organising to resist the tax, and demand more democracy and less repression. However, compared to other goldfields, Ballarat was fairly quiet, politically speaking, until September 1854, when the state went on the offensive.

Governor Hotham Begins the Offensive
After withdrawing the license fee increases, Latrobe was sacked as governor and the new governor, Hotham, arrived in June 1854. At this time the Victorian colony had a £3 million deficit, and owed the banks £500,000. After a quick goodwill tour of the goldfields, Hotham got down to business by sacking a thousand government employees, and trying to extract additional taxes from the gold diggers.

In September 1854, Hotham secretly ordered that the digger hunts at Ballarat be increased, from two per month to two per week. This was the first of six offensives by the Victorian state against the Ballarat miners, provoking some resistance each time, and leading up to the final offensive against the stockade.

Why Ballarat? Bendigo had a more troublesome reput
ation. Ballarat had previously been the more ‘peaceful’ goldfield. The offensive has been variously described as an attempt to fill the colonial coffers, and a plan to provoke the miners into a beatable revolt; it was probably a bit of both. And Ballarat appeared to be the easier target.

Then a more accidental event increased the tension: on 7 October 1854 a publican James Bentley killed a miner named James Scobie (apparently with a blow by a shovel to the back of the skull). A few days later, a judicial inquiry consisting of three camp officials absolved Bentley. Coming on top of the increased digger hunts, the Ballarat diggers saw this as adding insult to injury. On 17 October 1854, on the initiative of former British Chartists, the Ballarat miners held a meeting, pass the hat and collected £200 for information leading to the conviction of Scobie’s killer. Then, because they had their own suspicions, they burnt Bentley’s pub to the ground. Two diggers were arrested by the police for lighting the fires but they were rescued from the police.

On 19 October 1854, the camp launched offensive number two, arresting three goldminers and charging them with arson. Two of the arrestees were nowhere near the fire. Ballarat was getting organised, largely due to the work of Chartists. On 20 October the miners formed a Defence Committee.

Nevertheless, the state proceeded with offensive number three. It sent additional armed regiments from Melbourne to the Ballarat goldfields. The goldfield police went wild with digger hunts, even arresting the non-English speaking Armenian hunchback Gregorius, a servant of the local Catholic priest. The police realised it would be unwise to charge Gregorius for mining without a licence, so they charged him with resisting arrest and assaulting police.

On the following Sunday 22 October, Ballarat diggers held a mass meeting of 10,000 (10% of the Victorian male population) at Bakery Hill. They resolved that Gregorius was innocent and that the Gold Commissioner should be sacked. A week later, another mass meeting at Bakery Hill was addressed by Chartists (Kennedy, Holyoake, and Black) and a German republican (Frederick Vern). The meeting resolved ‘that the diggers of Ballarat do enter into communications with the men of the other goldfields, with a view to the immediate formation of a general league, having for its object the attainment of the moral and social rights of the diggers.’ Economic demands were leading to political demands, as they usually do.

On 11 November 1854 another meeting of 10,000 Diggers at the Bakery Hill resolved to found the Ballarat Reform League (emulating Bendigo’s Red Ribbon League). The meeting resolved ‘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’. It demanded ‘equal laws and equal rights’ for ‘the whole free community’. If they were granted, the League would not attempt ‘to effect an immediate separation of this Colony from the parent country.’ If not, the League would assert ‘the Royal Prerogative of the People’ who are ‘the only legitimate source of all political power’. The BRL adopted a political program borrowed directly from British Chartism, and an economic program based upon abolition of the licence fee and a demand to ‘unlock the lands’ – meaning, make land available to smallholders, not just squatters. European, English, and North American traditions all contributed to the political demands of the diggers, and were adapted to local grievances. The BRL also sent a deputation to see governor Hotham, and requested the release of the miners who were charged with arson. Hotham threw them out. And having secured the support of the squatters, the merchants, the London Foreign office, the Legislative Council, and Melbourne’s major newspapers for an armed confrontation at Ballarat, Hotham launched offensive number four: he ordered 435 military personnel and police to augment his Ballarat forces. On the way to Ballarat, these forces were stoned and abused. One detachment was attacked, mainly by Irish diggers. It lost two drays of arms. The German republican, Vern, organised a detachment of miners to await and intercept the expected arrival of artillery, approaching from Melbourne.

On 29 November 1854, the BRL delegation returned empty handed from its meeting with Hotham, and reported to over 10,000 diggers, at a mass meeting at Bakery Hill. The Southern Cross flag, designed by a Canadian called Ross, and sewn by three miners’ wives, flew for the first time over this meeting. The meeting praised the ‘persevering and indomitable struggles for freedom of the brave people of England and Ireland for the past eighty years.’ An Irish digger Peter Lalor proposed they meet again in four days time, and elect a central committee. However, the government offensive had raised the temperature. On Vern’s motion, the miners resolved to burn their licences, ignited a famous ‘license bonfire’, and resolved to defend anyone who was arrested. 500 Redcoats and 200 Bluecoats watched the meeting at a respectful distance, it being generally agreed that ‘half the miners were armed’.

On the following day, 30 November, the state launched offensive number five: the police went on another digger hunt, watched by regular soldiers, at the Gravel Pits lead, nearest the government camp. They made 8 arrests, and discharged their firearms. Soldiers moved in when the crowd defended arrested diggers. Colonel Rede, the local Gold Commissioner, read the Riot Act. No-one was shot, but the stakes had been raised. Around 1,500 miners gathered at their traditional meeting place, Bakery Hill, many with arms. By now, the Chartists had disappeared. They were ‘moral force’ men, and things were too hot for them. More militant miners stepped into the leadership vacuum. On Peter Lalor’s proposal, the miners recited the Eureka Oath: ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’

This was the first oath on Australian soil to a flag that was not British. Bakery Hill was within sight of the government camp, so the miners moved to an area they called the ‘Eureka lead’, and built the Eureka Stockade. The Southern Cross flag was raised above the stockade, and to this day it is also known as the Eureka flag. The stockade was probably a purely defensive structure, built to protect the diggers against the next digger hunt. After the Chartists disappeared, many of the remaining diggers were Irish and Scottish, with a good mingling of continental Europeans. People do not lightly take up guns and erect barricades to resist the armed forces of the state. However, people with some experience of insurrection and revolution (like many of the Irish and European diggers) are more inclined to do so. This uprising was, in part, an echo of the European revolutions of 1848.

The stockade drove the state to a frenzy. Gold Commissioner Rede told Hotham that an attack on the diggers was imperative in order ‘to crush them and the democratic movement at one blow’. Before launching the offensive, Hotham sought and obtained approval of the Legislative Council. The squatters knew that if the Crown lost the struggle against the diggers, all the land they had amassed would have been redistributed to a population hungry for access.

On 1 December 1854, Peter Lalor was elected Commander-In-Chief of the armed Eureka miners. James McGill, leader of the Independent Californian Rangers, who had had some training at West Point, was appointed second in command. By mid-afternoon 1,500 men were drilling in and around the stockade. Paddy Gettins, an Irish pikemaker, and Sandy McNab, a Scots blacksmith, were operating a forge inside the stockade to make pikes (after the Irish models of July 1848) for the stockaders without guns. Few diggers slept in the stockade at night. Many slept in their own tents and returned to the stockade in the morning. On the afternoon of 2 December 1854, a Saturday, 1,500 men were again drilling nearby, and 200 mine
rs from the nearby Creswick field (10 miles away) had joined the stockade. Two hundred Americans, the Independent Californian Rangers (armed with revolvers and Mexican knives), arrived under the leadership of James McGill.

However, McGill took most of the Californian Rangers out of the stockade to intercept British reinforcements from Melbourne. Rede’s spies informed him that the stockaders had gone back to their own tents and diggings. This was not a factory occupation. No one dreamed they would be attacked on a Sunday.

The Final Offensive
The sixth and final offensive against the goldminers was a direct military assault upon the stockade by a larger and better armed force. It began at 4 am Sunday morning and wiped out the stockade in little over fifteen minutes, but the killing went on till sunrise. Some killings occurred up to one mile from the stockade, and over one hour after the stockaders surrendered. Casualty figures are not entirely reliable but it is suspected that the troopers killed 34, wounded at least 12, and arrested 114. Casualties on the Government side were 4 killed and 12 wounded. The stockade was physically destroyed. Its exact site is not known today.

Nationalities At Eureka
Of the 34 dead miners whose name and nationality could be identified (about 22), there were 10 Irish-born, three English, two Scots, two Canadians, one Prussian, one Hanoverian, one Italian, and one Australian-born. Among the 120 arrested miners were 30 Irish, and many other nationalities including three citizens of the USA, two white and one black. Thirteen of the arrested were subsequently tried for ‘treason’: these included the black American, an Italian, a Dutchman, and another black man from Kingston, Jamaica.

This data on ‘nationalities’ illustrates an aspect of the formation of ‘the Australian character’ not usually foregrounded in dominant accounts, as evolving from the European revolutions of 1848, English Chartism, Irish nationalism, and also North American radicalism.

The Aftermath of the Eureka Uprising
On the following Monday, 4 December, the Victorian colonial government declared Martial Law, and swore in 1,500 special constables from the loyal business/squatter classes. The state soon learned that it had won the military battle, but lost the political battle. On Tuesday 5 December the mayor of Melbourne called a public meeting, hoping to rally support for the Governor. 5,000 attended and most were pro-digger. The mayor hurriedly closed the meeting before it could vote on whether to follow the Union Jack or the Southern Cross. An even bigger pro-digger demonstration met on the following Wednesday.

Miners and their sympathisers begin a generalised tax strike. Throughout most of the goldfields, most diggers simply refused to pay the licence fee; there were still many small arms in circulation; and the troopers were reluctant to go on any more digger hunts. The digger hunt of 30 November 1854 was in fact the last digger hunt in Australian history.

The Treason Trials
Under pressure from the public demonstrations, governor Hotham released most of the arrested stockaders. The USA Vice-consul requested and obtained the release of the two white Americans. Hoping to establish his authority, governor Hotham offered rewards for the stockaders Lalor and Humphray (£200), and Vern (£500), who had escaped arrest. He also retained 13 stockaders under arrest, and prosecuted them for treason. The treason indictment read, in part:
       having devised and intended to deprive our said Lady the Queen of the kingly name of the Imperial Crown in Victoria, you did express and evince such treasonable intention by the four following overt acts: 1st – That you raised upon a pole, and collected round a certain standard, and did solemnly swear to defend each other…
The Victorian state could not find a jury to convict the Eureka rebels. In February 1855, the first stockader to be put on trial was the black American, Joe Joseph. Ten thousand sympathetic inhabitants of Melbourne (total population 100,000) came to hear the jury’s verdict. The prosecutor, the Attorney General, had urged the jury to ‘hang a nigger for the governor’. However the jury acquitted Joseph, whereupon the cheering from the public gallery was so loud that Chief Justice Sir William a’Beckett sentenced two barrackers for a week in jail for contempt of court. Joseph was carried through Melbourne by cheering crowds.

In subsequent trials (beginning in March 1855), Melbourne juries acquitted all the other stockaders of all treason charges, despite police verbals and the evidence of grasses (the trials flushed out many provocateurs and spies that had entered the stockade). An Italian digger, Carboni Raphaello, was among the accused. Prosecution witnesses swore that he had burnt his licence on Bakery Hill. But with dramatic flourish he produced his licence in court. He was found not guilty. On the first anniversary of the Eureka battle, Carboni Raphaello published a readable eyewitness history of the event.

The Goldfields Commission Digs Up the Future
On 7 December 1854, Hotham appointed a ‘Goldfields Commission’, which took evidence for three weeks, travelling to Ballarat, Bendigo, Creswick and Castlemaine. In March 1855, the Commissioners reported that the independent goldminers were economically doomed; their incomes were falling. Gold production had peaked in 1853. By late 1853 goldminers were earning less, on average, than wage workers. Therefore the Commission recommended, and the state agreed, to reduce taxation and repression, and wait for falling returns to wipe out the independent diggers as a class.

The Victorian political franchise was expanded, not so much to create ‘democracy’, as to bring civil society into the state, to win its participation, and therefore its loyalty. The ‘Miner’s Right’ qualified the holder to vote for the legislative Council and also for members of the local courts. In November 1855, two miners Humffray (a Chartist) and Lalor (the stockade leader), won election unopposed to the Victorian Legislative Council, representing Ballarat.

An equally important, but less often mentioned, legal development occurred in 1855: Victorian law authorised the incorporation of the no-liability mining company, which would assist corporate capital to drive the independent miners out of goldmining. Underground mining, to be economically viable, required steam power (for lifting) and pneumatic drills (to drill ore) and mechanised bellows. The no-liability mining company could raise the capital to finance this equipment. Independent miners in small partnerships could not. Corporate capital, assisted by the state, was destined to squeeze out independent miners.

Some Myths: ‘An (Australian) Nationalist Uprising’
Let us then, revisit some of the myths that have been continuously recycled. In the late 1800s the advocates of Australian federation constructed the notion that Eureka was a nationalist uprising. Recently this myth has featured again in newspaper articles: ‘The Eureka spirit lives on today for one reason: it encapsulates much of what we hold dear as Australians… Like Gallipoli, where glory came from defeat, and even like Ned Kelly taking on the police at Glenrowan, Eureka represents something enviable and durable about the Australian character’ (Christopher Bantick ‘Freedom: The message from Eureka’, The Age, 29 November 2003).

That idea would have surprised the rebels of 1854. They were looking for quick money and lower taxes, not nationhood. Not one rebel leader – such as Lalor, Carboni, Humffray, Vern – raised any slogans about nationhood. The Ballarat Reform League does not seem to have issued any republican slogans, nor had any nationalist slogans. To the extent that the word ‘independence’ was ever raised (e.g. by The Ballarat Times), this had a lot to do with the American presence, and their memory of the American War of Independence, which began as a revolt a
gainst British taxation.

The diggers carried European political ideologies in their heads. Chartism was the most obvious. Irish Nationalism and Roman Catholicism was influential among the Irish miners, which probably explained why some listened to the counsel of the local Catholic priest to leave the stockade on the Saturday before the battle. The Californians and the Canadians remembered the slogans of the North American Revolution. As for the Germans, not enough is known about them, unfortunately.

The martyrs of Eureka have been described as ‘patriots’. In fact they were Irish, Canadians, Scots, with no record of ever praising this lump of land called Australia at Federation. They certainly expressed some class solidarity with each other, and some belief in political liberty – but these are ideas with no necessary connection with nationalism.

Another Myth: ‘The Birth Of Democracy’
H.V. Evatt (the ALP politician, judge, and historian) called Eureka ‘the birthplace of Australian democracy’. It is true that an armed uprising did lead to expansion of the parliamentary franchise, and a relatively more representative form of government. However, a recent newspaper article incorrectly asserts: ‘The road to independent democratic government in Victoria in the 1850s was overwhelmingly peaceful… The basic principle of democracy had been agreed on’ (Robert Murray, ‘The Unromantic Truth about the Eureka Stockade’, The Age, 26 December 2003). In fact a wider franchise was not ‘agreed upon’ by a government that decided Ballarat was the best place to launch an offensive against ‘the democratic movement’. The Eureka stockade was part of a battle fought on all goldfields which achieved the relaxation of property qualifications for voters. Parliament should not be equated with democracy. I would prefer to call Eureka the birth of parliamentarism in Australian.

A Myth, Or a False Expectation: ‘Peter Lalor Became Conservative

Peter Lalor became a conservative MP, a large landholder, and a mining capitalist. In 1857 Lalor, MLC for Ballarat, voted to maintain restricted franchise. He said he supported freehold suffrage (for property owners), not manhood suffrage. When asked while in parliament whether he believed in democracy he stated: ‘I would ask these gentlemen what they mean by the term “democracy”? Do they mean chartism or communism or republicanism? If so, I never was, I’m not now, nor do I ever intend to be a democrat.’ Some of his former admirers spoke of his ‘betrayal’, and later historians have expressed surprise that he mellowed. However, there is no need to be surprised. People should not be accused of betrayal when they do not deliver what they never promised in the first place. Lalor’s personal history after 1854 was not a strange metamorphosis; it was the continuation of a trajectory he was already on. Lalor’s father had been a British MP. Lalor was trained as a civil engineer at Trinity. He was attracted by the get-rich-quick ideology of the gold rush.

Violent methods should not be equated with radicalism. The diggers had a radical side (they opposed the state and taxation), but they also had an ingrained conservative side (they defended smallholding property and individual enterprise; they fear waged labour). They were smallholders dreaming of becoming largeholders. Lalor was going for gold, and achieved his dream.

Lalor defended his own class interests as he perceived them: get-rich-quick ambitions and enough wealth to never perform waged labour. He defended these interests with arms at Eureka. He subsequently defended them with parliamentary methods. That is what parliamentary careers are for.

‘The Most Important Rebellion Seen In Australia’s History’
This assessment appears on an anarchist website. The rebellion was important, yes: the most important, no. The Eureka rebels were certainly more important than the Ned Kelly gang. However, they didn’t have the potential of the urban working class. A rebellion deserving of as much remembrance as Eureka, is the victory of the Victorian stonemasons, who won the 8-hour day in 1856 – the first such victory in the world. The stonemasons’ achievement was a phase of a worldwide rebellion that continues today with undiminished importance.

The class of independent goldminers that made the 1854 rebellion was, at that time, on the way to becoming extinct, squeezed out by mining corporations. The average annual income of independent goldminers dropped from £263 in 1852 to £69 in 1858. By the late 1850s, wage labourers in underground mines were receiving £2-10s a week – much more than most independent miners.

The future, economically speaking, belonged to corporate capital. Politically speaking, the future belonged to waged labour.

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