Bendigo Goldfields Petition

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Cover of Wickham's book on Goldfields Agitations
Red Ribbon Movement Monument in Rosalind Park, Bendigo [detail], 2013. Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection
Bendigo Goldfields Petition, August 1853. State Library of Victoria (MS 12440)
Signatures from PegLeg (Bendigo) on the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition
Bendigo Goldfields Petition, August 1853. State Library of Victoria (MS 12440)
Bendigo Goldfields Petition, August 1853, p.3. State Library of Victoria (MS 12440)


Once thought to be lost, the Bendigo Goldfields Petition was discovered by chance lying in a pile of papers on a rubbish tip. Some 13 metres in length and bound in green silk, it is an important document for Victoria.[1]

The petition was signed by around 5000 diggers on the Victorian goldfields in mid-1853. At the time, the signatures represented about one in 12 diggers.[2]

In June 1853 an anti-gold licence association was formed at Bendigo to give voice to the diggers' many grievances about their conditions. The diggers were angry about the mining licence fees imposed by the government and the system by which they were collected.[3]

The petition was signed by miners across the state’s major goldfields and was brought to Melbourne and presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe on 1 August 1853. Most of its demands were rejected, including the reduction in the licence fee. Eventually the diggers' dissatisfaction erupted, culminating in the Eureka Stockade battle on the Eureka Lead at Ballarat on 3 December 1854.[4]

Reportedly, two women signed the petition - Florence Foley and Sarah Williamson.

The petition was brought to Melbourne and presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe on 01 August 1853. Most of its demands, including the reduction in the licence fee, were rejected. The diggers continued non-violent protest.[5]

Dr John Chapman, a Melbourne collector, purchased the petition from its discoverer and presented it to the State Library of Victoria in 1988. Its discovery is particularly valuable for historians and genealogists investigating the history of social and political events during the gold rushes in Victoria.[6]

The Wording of the Petition

The words used in the Petition make it clear that the diggers, storekeepers and others on the goldfields are loyal and law abiding citizens. It appears abundantly clear that the problem lies with the high licences and the manner in which they are issued and collected on the goldfields. This is an eloquently written document containing a plea for equality and justice.

To His Excellency Charles Joseph LaTrobe
Esquire Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Victoria etc
The Humble Petition of the Undersigned Gold Diggers and other residents on the GoldFields of the Colony
That these Petitioners are the Loyal and Devoted Subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, the Sovereign Ruler of This Colony and of
That in the present impoverished condition of the Gold Fields the impost of Thirty Shillings a Month is more than Your Petitioners can pay as the fruit of their labor at the Mines scarcely affords to a large proportion of the Gold Miners the common necessaries of life.
That a consequence of the few Officials appointed to issue Licenses the Diggers Storekeepers and other residents lose much time at each Monthly issue on procuring these licenses.
That the laborious occupation of Gold digging and the privation attendant on a residence in the Gold fields entail much sickness and its consequent expenses from so doing.
That newly arrived Diggers must lose much time and money before they become acquainted with the process of Gold Mining.
That in consequence of Armed Men (many of whom are notoriously bad in characteriser) being employed to inform the impost of Thirty Shillings a Month there is much ill feeling engendered amongst the Diggers against the Government.
That in consequence of the non-possession by some of the Miners of a Gold Digger License some of the Commissioners appointed to administer the Law on the Gold Fields have on various occasions Chained non-possessors to Trees and Condemned them to hard labor on the Public Roads of the Colony - A proceeding Your Petitioners maintain to be contrary to the spirit of the British Law which does not recognize the principle of the Subject being a Criminal because he is indebted to the State.
That the impost of Thirty Shillings a Month is unjust because the successful and unsuccessful Digger are assessed in the same ratio.
For these reasons and others which could be enumerated Your Petitioners pray Your Excellency to Grant the following Petition
First. To direct that the Licence Fee be reduced to Ten Shillings a Month
Secondly. To direct that Monthly or Quarterly Licenses be issued at the option of the Applicants
Thirdly. To direct that new arrivals or invalids be allowed on registering their names at the Commissioners Office fifteen clear days residence on the Gold Fields before the License be enforced
Fourthly. To afford greater facility to Diggers and others resident on the Gold Fields who wish to engage in Agricultural Pursuits for investing their earnings in small allotments of land
Fifthly. To direct that the Penalty of Five Pounds for non-possession of License be reduced to One Pound
Sixthly. To direct that (as the Diggers and other residents on the Gold Fields of the Colony have uniformly developed a love of law and order) the sending of an Armed Force to enforce the License Tax be discontinued.
Your Petitioners would respectfully submit to Your Excellency's consideration in favour of the reduction of the License Fee that many Diggers and other residents on the Gold-fields who are debarred from taking a License under the present System would if the Tax were reduced to Ten Shillings a Month cheerfully comply with the Law so that the License Fund instead of being diminished would be increased.
Your Petitioners would also remind your Excellency that a Petition is the only mode by which they can submit their wants to your Excellency's consideration as although they contribute more to the Exchequer that half the Revenue of the Colony they are the largest class of Her Majesty's Subjects in the Colony unrepresented.
And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray etc.

Testament from Bendigo Pioneers

John Paton was at the Monster Meeting. His name does not appear on the list of signatures, but there is another name Andrew Patton, perhaps a brother or relative.

Mr. John Paton, a retired Post-office official, gave evidence of such an interesting character that it might be better to repeat his own words. “I was one of the earliest gold diggers in the colony. I worked on Anderson’s Creek before the Ballarat diggings, and I was mining to the end of 1858. In October, 1851, I was at work on Forest Creek. I may mention, in 1849 I went up with Mr. Fenton with his first flock of sheep to Bendigo. I can satisfy you about the name of Bendigo; in 1849 I inquired from some of the old inhabitants about it, and they said it was known as Bendigo. In 1849 I travelled over the run, and when they came in October, 1851, I was on Forest Creek. A day or two afterwards I was in conversation with Murphy, and Mr. Byass came over and informed us that they had found gold on the Bendigo Creek. After this lapse of time I cannot be positive as to dates, but I am positive I was working there, Forest Creek, in October, 1S51, and this was either the end of October or the beginning of November.

When I got to Bendigo, I think I saw Stewart Gibson there and some of the station hands. I remember seeing Mrs. Kennedy, and I have not seen her since that time till now. I knew the shepherd and hut-keeper; the shepherd’s name was James Graham, and old hand from Tasmania, an old man who took charge of the flock in the winter of 1849. He was in the employment of Mr. Fenton up to the time of finding the gold, and he was a short Scotchman. The hut-keeper was a Chris. Asquith. I knew the children; two of the daughters were married; one of Asquith’s daughters married a man named Slocombe; he was a wheelwright; he married one of the daughters of the hut keeper. I have not seen Slocombe for over 30 years — I have been in the public service over 30 years. I got into conversation, and camped there that night. The spot where they were working was in the bed of the creek. There was a bar running across the creek. The position was the site of the present Golden-square. There was no room for me; there were several working about, and there was no more room to put in a claim. I worked on my claim on the left bank of the creek. I washed a bit of dirt on the opposite side. I borrowed a spade and got gold in the grass, and marked out a claim. I believe it was the first claim marked out — the first payable claim. My mates came over the second day, and after them came a number of other miners who followed them. I believe, in consequence of Byass’ information, that caused the first rush after our bullock dray from Barker’s and Forest Creek.

I may mention, to show the payable nature of my claim, that there was a married couple came on the field; they had a horse and dray; they stated they had left the station and were hard up. I felt sorry for the woman, and said to my mates, ‘Suppose we give them something,’ and we gave them a load of earth from the surface, and they washed it, and I know they got out of that 16 oz. of gold, amongst which was a 6 oz. nugget in the shape of a crescent; that was in November. We took out that claim, afterwards, 30 lbs. weight of gold from the reef; we got it from the grass and down to the reef — it was a continuation of the reef, not more than about a foot deep. We took up the first cradle that was worked on Bendigo Creek.

I was present at the great meeting — I was there when the Commissioner put up his first camp, and also there when the black trooper found the gold in Golden Gully. I remember distinctly going up in November, and we went down with our bullock dray, and arrived in Melbourne on Thursday, the 18th of December, 1851. We were on the road nearly a week; and we sold the gold to Mr. Benjamin, the father of the present Sir Benjamin Benjamin. We first took it to Heap and Grice, in Flinders-lane; they offered £2 15s. an ounce for it; we declined, and we got £2 16s. an ounce from Mr. Benjamin. Asquith the hut-keeper, and Graham the shepherd, claimed to have found the gold. As to the name, my own impression was that it was a corruption of ‘bandicoot;’ but the old hands said it was called after some old pugilist.”[7]

Probably Signed in or around Ballarat

Jesse Eldridge - John Eldridge - Moses Eldridge - Thomas Clegg - Alfred Lester - William Yuille

Probably Signed in or around Bendigo

Joseph Abbott - George Aspinall - Robert Benson - James Black (1) - Annesly Boyde - Michael Breen - Edward Browne - George Gaull -George Graham - Denis Fitzgerald - John Andrew Herdegen - W.E. Hill - Henry Holyoake - William Jameson - D.G. Jones - Frederick Ladbury - Decimus Lamb - Richard John Mack - John Maddern - Daniel Merington - Angel Meyers - James Moran - James Plunkett - John Pratt - Thomas Pritchard - Timothy Quinn - A. Robinson - John Shinnock - William Snell - Thomas Tyley - Thomas Underdown - James Egan Wall

Probably Signed in or Around Castlemaine

Edward Adams - George Braybook - Emil Pohl, Victoria Hotel - Charles Thacker - Nanken Thornhill - John R. Webb

Signed in Eaglehawk Gully (Bendigo)

W.E. Hill - Michael Breen - John Mathieson

Signed in Myer's Flat (Bendigo)

Denis Fitzgerald - John Shinnock - Denis Fitzgerald - James Plunkett

Probably Signed in or associated with The Ovens

David Ducat - John Owens

Signed in Peg Leg (Bendigo)

Edward Beach - John Brown - E. Butler - James Calder - Ben Cole - W. Sansome Fisher - John Gruph - Fredrick Hamilton - John Humphreys - David Lang - Alexander Lawson - Richard Loglen - John Martin - Thomas Renwick - A. Robinson - William B. Roebuck - W.E. Sasse - William Snell - Aaron Wheeler - George B. Williams - W.C. Williams

Signed in Sailor's Gully (Bendigo)

Annesly Boyde - George Gachon - George Graham - James Horan - James Moran - John Pratt -

Signed View Point (Bendigo)

John Edhouse

Alphabetical Listings

1853 Petition Signatures - A

1853 Petition Signatures - B

1853 Petition Signatures - C

1853 Petition Signatures - D

1853 Petition Signatures - E

1853 Petition Signatures - F

1853 Petition Signatures - G

1853 Petition Signatures - H

1853 Petition Signatures - I

1853 Petition Signatures - J

1853 Petition Signatures - K

1853 Petition Signatures - L

1853 Petition Signatures - M

1853 Petition Signatures - N

1853 Petition Signatures - O

1853 Petition Signatures - P

1853 Petition Signatures - Q

1853 Petition Signatures - R

1853 Petition Signatures - S

1853 Petition Signatures - T

1853 Petition Signatures - U

1853 Petition Signatures - V

1853 Petition Signatures - W

1853 Petition Signatures - Y

1853 Petition Signatures - Z

See also

Anti-Gold License Association


Bendigo Anti-license Committee

Red Ribbon Rebellion

Further Reading

Dorothy Wickham, Forgotten Rebels: The Cornish & the Bendigo Goldfields Petition IN Agan Kernow: Stories of Our Cornwall, Ken Peake, CAV, 2022, pp. 214-220.

Dorothy Wickham, Bendigo Goldfields Petition, BHS Publishing, 2021. (ePublication)

Dorothy Wickham, Bendigo Goldfields Petition, BHS Publishing, 11 November 2020.

Dorothy Wickham, Revolutionaries, Radicals & Victorian Goldfields, in Pay Dirt: Ballarat & Other Gold Towns, BHSPublishing, 2019, pp. 164-171.

Dorothy Wickham & Clare Gervasoni, Globalisation through Digital Experience Eurekapedia Wiki, in Pay Dirt: Ballarat & Other Gold Towns, BHSPublishing, 2019, pp. 195-202.


  1. 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. State Library of Victoria, Item No. MS 12440;, accessed 06 December 2013.
  2. 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. State Library of Victoria, Item No. MS 12440;, accessed 06 December 2013.
  3. 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. State Library of Victoria, Item No. MS 12440;, accessed 06 December 2013.
  4. 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. State Library of Victoria, Item No. MS 12440;, accessed 06 December 2013.
  5., accessed 07 February 2023.
  6. 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. State Library of Victoria, Item No. MS 12440;, accessed 06 December 2013.
  7. The Bendigo Advertiser, 28 October 1893, transcribed by Dorothy Wickham, May 2024.

External links