The Eureka Stockade was the setting of a gold miners' revolt in 1854 near Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, against the officials supervising the mining of gold in the region. The revolt was prompted by grievances over heavily priced mining items, the expense of a Miner's Licence, taxation (via the license) without representation and the actions of the government and its agents (the police and military). While the events which sparked the rebellion were specific to the Ballarat gold fields, the underlying grievances had been the subject of public meetings, civil disobedience and deputations across the various Victorian gold fields for almost three years. The miners' demands included the right to vote and purchase land, and the reduction of License fees. Agitation for these demands commenced with the Forest Creek Monster Meeting of December 1851 and included the formation of the Anti-Gold License Association at nearby Bendigo in 1853. 22 people died in the revolt and 35 were injured.
Although swiftly and violently put down, the Eureka rebellion was a watershed event in Australian politics. The preceding three years of agitation for the miners' demands, combined with mass public support in Melbourne for the captured 'rebels' when they were placed on trial, resulted in the introduction of full white-male suffrage for elections for the lower house in the Victorian parliament. The role of the Eureka Stockade in generating public support for these demands beyond the goldfields resulted in Eureka being controversially identified with the birth of democracy in Australia.
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 decided to leave open the possibility of secession from the United Kingdom if the situation did not improve.
The demands of the Ballarat Reform League encompassed:
Throughout the following weeks, the League sought to negotiate with Commissioner Robert Rede and Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, both on the specific unsubstantiated matters relating to Bentley 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. Commissioner Rede's response has been attributed by many historians (most notably Manning Clark) to his belief in his right to exert authority over the "rabble." Rather than hear the grievances, he increased the police presence in the gold fields and summoned reinforcements from Melbourne.
On Monday 6 November 1854, a delegation from the Ballarat Reform League — John Humffray, George Black and Thomas Kennedy — met with Governor Hotham. They attempted to negotiate the release of the miners arrested after the attack on Eureka Hotel, and presented the demands for universal suffrage as well as abolition of the miners' and storekeepers' licenses. The only concession Hotham was willing to make was for one digger's representative to be elected to the Legislative Council. The delegation rejected this, and returned to Ballarat empty-handed.
The writings of Raffaello Carboni, who was present at the Stockade, make it clear that "amongst the foreigners ... there was no democratic feeling, but merely a spirit of resistance to the licence fee"; and he also disputes the accusations "that have branded the miners of Ballarat as disloyal to their QUEEN" (emphasis as in the original).
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 rumour 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 licences.
Most notably, the Eureka Flag, a blue flag designed by a Canadian miner, "Captain" Henry Ross, and bearing nothing but the Southern Cross, was flown for the first (recorded) time. As a gesture of defiance , it deliberately excluded the British Union Flag, which is included in the official flag of Australia. The Argus newspaper, of 4 December 1854, reported that the Union Jack flag flew underneath the Southern Cross flag of the diggers at the Eureka Stockade. The original Eureka flag is now housed at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.
At the meeting on Bakery Hill an oath of allegiance was sworn: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.
Rede responded by ordering police to conduct a licence 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 favour 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. Licences were burned, the rebel "Eureka" flag was unfurled, and an oath of allegiance was sworn. The miners who encamped themselves around the flag vowed to defend themselves from licence hunts and harassment by the authorities.
The celebrated stockade itself was a ramshackle affair 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 came 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 make our final stand".
Irish born people were strongly represented at the Eureka Stockade. Eureka historians have discovered that as well as most of the miners inside the stockade, in the area where the defensive position was established, the miners were overwhelmingly Irish. Even the password used at the Eureka Stockade — Vinegar Hill — was the scene of an 1804 Irish convict uprising in New South Wales.
During Saturday 2 December, some 1500 men trained in and around the stockade. A further two hundred Americans, the Independent Californian Rangers, under the leadership of James McGill, arrived about 4 pm. The Americans 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 rumoured 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 the Sabbath, Sunday. A small contingent of about 150 miners remained at the stockade overnight, which the spies reported to Rede.
Lalor was the leader of the miners who fought at the Eureka Stockade, and the author of the oath of allegiance used by the miners at the Eureka Stockade which he swore to their affirmation. He was originally from Tinakill in County Laois, Ireland. He was the son of a member of the British House of Commons. According to Bert and Bon Strange "... it seems he became commander-in-chief almost by accident...He was 25 years of age, six feet tall and impulsive by nature.Their licence was 2 pound a month"
Ballarat historian Weston Bate says Lalor "...a positive, independent thinker, but no democrat, mounted the stump and proclaimed 'Liberty', and called for volunteers to form (military) companies. His initiative declared him leader."
After the battle, Lalor wrote in a statement to the colonists of Victoria, "There are two things connected with the late outbreak (Eureka) which I deeply regret. The first is, that we should have been forced to take up arms at all; and the second is, that when we were compelled to take the field in our own defence, we were unable (through want of arms, ammunition and a little organisation) to inflict on the real authors of the outbreak the punishment they so richly deserved.
Lalor was elected unopposed in the 1856 Victorian elections. As he was the Eureka hero his policies were not scrutinised at all before the election and his later voting record as a parliamentarian shows he once opposed a bill to introduce full white-male suffrage in the colony of Victoria. Cited in Weston Bate Lucky City page 133. During a speech in the Legislative Council in 1856 he said, "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 am not now, nor do I ever intend to be a democrat. But if a democrat means opposition to a tyrannical press, a tyrannical people, or a tyrannical government, then I have been, I am still, and will ever remain a democrat." Weston Bate wrote that the role of landowner and company director seemed to suit him more than that of rebel.
Weston Bate in Lucky City at page 134 stated that Peter Lalor "disgraced himself in democratic eyes by trying to use Chinese as strike-breakers at the Clunes mine of which he was a director. He was absolutely ruthless in using low paid Chinese workers to get rid of Australians seeking better and safer working conditions. In parliament he supported a repressive land Bill in 1857 which favoured the rich. There were 17,745 Ballarat signatures to a petition against Lalor's land Bill. Lalor never represented Ballarat again and in the 1859 election, he stood for South Granville.
Weston Bate ibid. p. 184 stated that Withers and others were puzzled and hurt that the folk hero should prove to be a better fighter for money and political position than for the people's rights.
Killing was indiscriminate, bodies were mutilated, tents set on fire, and nearby stores were burnt and pillaged (store owners and others later received compensation for this destruction). 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".
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 practised 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."
By 8am, Captain 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. One hundred and fourteen diggers, some wounded, were marched off to the Government camp about two kilometres away, where they were kept in an overcrowded lockup, before being moved to a more spacious barn on Monday morning.
Among the soldiers and military police, six were killed, including one Captain Wise. Martial law was imposed, and all armed resistance collapsed. News of the massacre 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, with widespread condemnation of the Government's action and support for the diggers' requested reforms.
As historian Geoffrey Blainey has commented, "Every government in the world would probably have counterattacked in the face of the building of the stockade." For a few weeks it appeared that the status quo had been restored, and Rede ruled the camps with an iron fist.
Of the approximately 120 'diggers' detained after the rebellion, thirteen were brought to trial. They were:
The first trial started on 22 February 1855, with John Joseph being brought before the court on charges of high treason. Joseph was one of three Americans arrested at the stockade, with the US Consul intervening for the release of the other two Americans. The prosecution was handled by Attorney General William Stawell representing the Crown before Chief Justice William à Beckett. After hearing the evidence, the jury quickly returned a Not Guilty verdict with the court erupting in wild cheering. John Joseph was carried around the streets of Melbourne in a chair in triumph by over 10,000 people.
Under the auspices of Victorian Chief Justice Redmond Barry, all the other 13 accused men were rapidly acquitted to great public acclaim. The trials have on several occasions been called a farce. Rede himself was quietly removed from the camps and reassigned to an insignificant position in rural Victoria.
When its report was handed down, it was scathing in its assessment of all aspects of the administration of the gold fields, and particularly the Eureka Stockade affair. It made several major recommendations, one of which was to restrict Chinese immigration. Its recommendations were only put into effect after the Stockade. The gold licences 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. 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.
Over the next thirty years, press interest in the events that had taken place at the Eureka Stockade dwindled, but Eureka was kept alive at the campfires and in the pubs, and in memorial events in Ballarat. In addition, key figures such as Lalor and Humfray were still in the public eye. Eureka had not been forgotten: it was readily remembered, and a flag similar to the Eureka flag was flown above the Barcaldine strike camp in the 1891 Australian shearers' strike. The rebellion was also recalled in the poetry of Henry Lawson, such as Flag of the Southern Cross (1887), Eureka (A Fragment) (1889), The Fight at Eureka Stockade (1890), and Freedom on the Wallaby (1891),
In 1889, Melbourne businessmen employed renowned American cyclorama artist Thaddeus Welch, who teamed up with local artist Izett Watson to paint 1000 square feet (90 m²) of canvas of the Eureka Stockade, wrapped around a wooden structure. When it opened in Melbourne, the exhibition was an instant hit. The Age reported in 1891 that "it afforded a very good opportunity for people to see what it might have been like at Eureka". The Australasian claimed "that many persons familiar with the incidents depicted, were able to testify to the fidelity of the painted scene". The people of Melbourne flocked to the cyclorama, paid up and had their picture taken before it. It was eventually dismantled and disappeared from sight.
The writer Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, visited the Victorian Goldfields in 1895. Following his visit, he said of the Eureka Stockade:
The materials used to build the stockade were rapidly removed to be used for the mines, and the entire area around the site was so extensively worked that the original landscape became unrecognisable, so identifying the exact location of the stockade is now virtually impossible.
Memorials to soldiers and miners are location in the Ballarat Old Cemetery and the Eureka Stockade Memorial is located within the Eureka Stockade Gardens and is listed on the Australian National Heritage List.
The Eureka Stockade (and the driving force of public opinion that followed) has been characterised as the "Birth of Democracy" within Australia. Its actual significance is uncertain; it has been variously mythologised by particular interest groups as a revolt of free men against imperial tyranny, of independent free enterprise against burdensome taxation, of labour against a privileged ruling class, or as an expression of republicanism.
The Eureka Stockade was certainly the most prominent rebellion in Australia's history and, depending on how one defines rebellion, can be regarded as the only such event. (But see also Rum Rebellion, Vinegar Hill and more recently the New Guard.) Its significance, however, remains debatable. Some historians believe that the prominence of the event in the public record has come about because Australian history does not include a major armed rebellion phase equivalent to the French Revolution, the English Civil War, or the American War of Independence or any of the numerous rebellions in Ireland before the ultimate successful Irish War of Independence of 1919-1921 which led to Ireland (excluding 6 north east counties) achieving dominion status: in consequence (according to this view) the Eureka story tends to be inflated well beyond its real significance. Others, however, maintain that Eureka was a seminal event and that it marked a major change in the course of Australian history.
In 1980, historian Geoffrey Blainey drew attention to the fact that many miners were temporary migrants from Britain and the United States, who did not intend to settle permanently in Australia. He wrote:
The debate remains active and may remain so as long as Eureka is remembered.