Blood, Sweat and Tears: Women at Eureka

From eurekapedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Travelling to the Diggings, the Keilor Plains. Victoria by John A. Gilfillan. State Library of Victoria Collection (H25126)

'Blood, Sweat and Tears': Women at Eureka [1]

Dorothy Wickham

William Bramwell Withers, in his History of Ballarat (1870), described the early goldfields as ‘womanless crowds’ wrestling ‘with the earth and forest amid much weariness and solitude of heart’. The appearance of a woman ‘was the signal for a cry and a gathering’. Certainly, women appear invisible where the actions surrounding Eureka are concerned. The Ballarat Times reported that it was the men who spoke at the ‘Monster Meetings’, and it was men who moved and seconded motions of the Ballaarat Reform League. It was Peter Lalor who jumped on the stump at the Bakery Hill Meeting for the oration, and men who solemnly knelt and swore to stand truly by each other to defend their rights and liberties. On the other hand, limited contemporary evidence and family oral history present an alternative story. Alpheus Boyton, an eyewitness to the Eureka Stockade, wrote about women as victims on the site of the battle. "What true soldier would discharge his musket at an innocent and helpless female standing in front of her tent and yet such was the case". Elizabeth Wilson was courageous as her grandson reported: She was wild and she used to load his gun and she kept the bullets etc in the shop. She kept supplying that to him. During the battle he ran away and left her, but she was in the stockade area still … all of a sudden one of the miners raced up to her … The miner said ‘Look Maam, where can I hide?’ She replied, ‘Right where you stand’. With that she hit him on the shoulder and knocked him down. … She stepped over him, pulled up her hoop skirt, and stood over him. The history of women at Eureka remains largely hidden. Early writers like Raffaello Carboni, William Bramwell Withers, and John Lynch mostly left women out of their heroic accounts, and few women grace the pages of major historical works by Weston Bate and Geoffrey Serle and John Molony. Although some recent attempts have been made to include women in the Eureka story (notably by historians such as Clare Wright), there has been no systematic study of their role and participation at Eureka. And so, to date, only a partial story of Eureka has been told. This paper brings forth some of the hidden history of women at Eureka, in order to seek their inclusion in the popular understandings of this critical event. I argue that within the patriarchal colonial society operating at Eureka on the Ballarat Diggings in 1854 European women had some capacity for agency. This is revealed at times through their embodied and intellectual practices. ‘Agency’ is meant in this paper as a more generative account of subject formation. This understanding of agency takes into account the experiences of women, which attest ‘to the capacity for autonomous action in the face of often overwhelming cultural sanctions and structural inequalities’. The relationship between body and subjectivity is more fluid and complex in such a post-Foucauldian analysis. Gender identity is ‘not simply imposed through patriarchal structures, but as a set of norms that are lived and transformed in the embodied practices of men and women’ and it is therefore more interconnected, variable and dynamic. Women’s actions during the Eureka battle and immediately following the battle recount their ‘blood, sweat and tears’. After the battle many of the miners were wounded, ‘the blood dripping from them as they walked … several of them were still heaving, and at every rise of their breasts the blood spurted out of their wounds, or just trickled away’. Women assisted them by providing handkerchiefs, ‘others bed furniture and … matting’, the women inside the stockade were ‘crying for absent husbands’, and the children were ‘frightened into silence’.

Following a short discussion of the historiography of colonial women, and women on the goldfields, and a note on oral history, evidence of women’s agency at Eureka will be considered. This paper is organised largely chronologically by firstly examining women’s agency in the lead up to Eureka, such as during the ‘Monster Meetings’, then in considering the role of women in making of the Eureka Flag. Thirdly this paper looks at the actions of women during the battle and immediately following the battle, and lastly it considers how women reacted in the aftermath.

Foundational works on women in early colonial Australia like those of Anne Summers, Miriam Dixson and Beverley Kingston brought attention to the fact that women were often an ‘invisible’ group. Studies of gender relations emerged from endeavours such as these, and as the parameters of discourse widened, broader analytical ambitions were developed. According to Marilyn Lake, ‘accounts of Australian politics’, however, ‘were (and are) blind to the decades of political activity undertaken by women’ who ‘seemed to be of no consequence to the men who documented, and still document, our political history’.

David Goodman was one of the first to consider the role of women within the dimensions and dislocation of society caused by the gold rushes. Goodman argues that the independent life on the gold fields had a public-political and gendered meaning because of the ‘freedom from domestic constraints and responsibilities’ in which often men found themselves. Most gold diggers were men and although the majority were single, some had left domestic ‘bliss’ to search for gold. Only around a quarter of the men on the Ballarat Diggings in 1854 were living in a marital situation. Contemporary observers believed the social disruptions of the gold rushes were a dangerous influence on the domestic life on the Diggings. The ideology of domesticity was not new, but it provided a language with which the effects of gold rushes could be explained and while women ‘were associated with the home, consumption, and reproduction’, or the private sphere, men ‘were associated with work, production and the accumulation of money’. In mid nineteenth century Australian colonial society Anglo-Saxon men largely dominated and controlled the public sphere, and thus men largely controlled the political and legal realms too.

Previous literature has shown that women were on the Ballarat goldfields in considerable numbers, and it outlines their demographic make up. Louise Asher, for instance, has shown that there were around 4000 women making up around 25% of the population, and around 95% of these women were in a marital relationship. A greater diversity among women on the goldfields and more nuanced views of power however are being sought. Some social historians, in the tradition of E. P. Thompson, and drawing on the insights of Michel Foucault, began to focus on the juxtaposition of the legal and political aspects of power in relation to the everyday lives of men and women, or, as Diane Kirkby wrote, ‘the bad, the mad, and the just plain ugly’. Works of historians such as Shurlee Swain, Judith Allen, and Lynette Finch, although they do not relate specifically to the goldfields, are major contributions providing models from which this paper draws. These historians redirect the focus on women themselves, not just as victims of crimes such as abortion, wife desertion, and infanticide, but to women as historical subjects. Melanie Senior, Christina Twomey and Dorothy Wickham in writing about goldfields’ locations contest the belief that women were passive agents. Twomey examines deserted wives who presented to the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum for assistance, disputing the view that women on the goldfields were passive agents, holding no influence. She argues that deserted wives on the goldfields were seen as a symbol of disorderliness in society and unprotected femininity. These women, she argues, exerted pressure on the legal system when they made complaints to the Magistrates’ Courts. Senior, who focussed upon courts in the Ballarat concurred with Twomey’s findings writing that: ‘The very fact that women brought complaints to the Court is indicative of their active participation in the power relations operating on the goldfields.’ Wickham’s thesis examined the interrelationship between charity and power arguing that the Ballarat Female Refuge was the endpoint in the disciplinary network within which sexually active females’ bodies were enmeshed in patriarchal society. Power relationships were constantly being negotiated between the committees, workers and inmates showing the mutuality within and between relationships. There have thus been some significant initiatory steps towards an understanding of gender and agency in Ballarat. By developing this line of research and by acknowledging firstly that women were present at Eureka, and then by considering the political implications of their actions, a broader understanding of women on the gold fields hopefully can be reached. Reports of women who have otherwise left little evidence of their existence are often accounted for in oral family history, emphasising the importance of this often overlooked source. Oral history often provides access to undocumented areas of the past, enabling the stories of ‘ordinary’ everyday people and events to be told. Alert to the pitfalls of oral history this paper gleans much ‘hidden’ information from this source, keeping in mind such things as differences in interpretation, extensive rearrangements, and the difficulty of the historian to act as a bridge and an objective informant between raw testimonies, reportage, and the written word. The following section of the paper presents some of the evidence available of women’s involvement in Eureka. This new interpretation of women’s capacity for autonomous action can be considered in the light of a cultural and structural context of colonial gender relations on the goldfields. The evidence focuses upon the Bentley Affair, the influence of Chartism and women’s probable presence at the ‘Monster Meetings’, the possibility of women making the Eureka Flag, and women’s roles and their involvement in the battle and later during the aftermath. The Bentley incident, a precursor to Eureka, when a young Scot miner called Scobie was thought to have been murdered by Francis and Catherine Bentley, the proprietors of the Eureka Hotel, was important in a couple of ways. Actions such as those by Catherine Bentley proved to be the stimulus or means to a broader unrest and the incident highlighted the corruptness of the government administration in the Ballarat district. It also drew together great numbers of people in protest against the authority of the government and the ultimate burning of Bentley’s Hotel on 17 October 1854. Catherine was not politically motivated by democratic ideals like the women who in all possibility supported the Ballaarat Reform League with its Chartist ideals. Women were likely to have engaged with what were described as ‘Monster Meetings’ in the lead up to the Eureka battle. According to West and Blumberg women traditionally have been present in such social protests throughout history. They have appeared as protestors in all eras of history, demonstrating their involvement in similar issues, for example, at the Anti-Slavery Convention in London in the 1840s and in demonstrations such as those relating to the anti-Poor Law in 1837, the food riots, and Chartism from 1838-1848 in Britain. Stacey and Price write that ‘More than one account suggests that in these and in the later Chartist demonstrations the women were in the forefront and more ferocious than the men’. According to Reverend Francis Close, women, not content with ‘their influence over their husbands, their brothers, and their fathers to foment discord, to promote a spirit of sedition, … become themselves political agitators – female dictators – female mobs – female Chartists!’ From 1837 to 1844 women are said to have formed around 80 political unions and Chartist associations in Britain. Women were as involved with men with the outcomes of Chartism because these outcomes affected not only their daily sustenance but also the future well being and health of their families. Thomas Carlyle, for example, appealed in 1852 to ‘Unhappy Workers, unhappier Idlers, unhappy men and women of this actual England’. He wrote of the Manchester Insurrection of 1839 that ‘men and women [were] cut down, - the number slain and maimed is very countable’. One of the great Chartists, J. R. Stephens wrote, ‘This question of universal suffrage is a knife and fork question, after all, a bread and cheese question, notwithstanding all that has been said against it.’

Chartism, a movement of political and social reform, was a major influence on early politics in the Colony of Victoria. As John Molony has shown, the instigators of the Ballaarat Reform League who held the ‘Monster Meetings’ had a long tradition from which to draw. The Ballaarat Reform League linked its experience to the struggles of those that went before them. The extensive immigration to the Australian colonies of working and middle classes from Britain brought with it ideas of political reform such as the objectives of the People’s Charter, which included universal suffrage, a secret ballot, and no property qualifications for members of parliament, payment of members of Parliament, equal constituencies and annual parliaments. Mass protest meetings on the goldfields and in Melbourne were a direct product of the British Chartist experience and a desire by the middleclasses to promote a democratic society.

Because the meetings on the Ballarat goldfields were conducted as social events, plus the huge numbers that attended these meetings, and the precedent set in similar meetings in Britain, it is probable that women as well as men attended them and possibly were active in a political sense. The proceedings on 11 November were conducted at three o’clock in the afternoon and accompanied by flags and music ‘adding to the effect of the affair’. The meeting was also described as ‘a quiet and orderly one’, no soldiers or troopers being stationed at Bakery Hill or present at the meeting, adding credence to the possibility of women being present.

Reports claimed around 10,000 people were present at each ‘Monster Meeting’ of the Ballaarat Reform League on 11 and 29 November 1854. Considering that the total population of Ballarat Goldfields and Ballarat Township was around 20,000 then half the population of the locality attended. As women comprised around 25% of the population in 1854, it is highly likely that they were among the crowd involved in the proceedings. These women were also young and active. Of the 4000 or so women on the Ballarat Diggings and in the Ballarat Township in 1854 most were young, married and of childbearing age. The causes of Eureka were like the ‘bread and cheese’ voiced by earlier British Chartist agitators, and affected women personally and daily.

A central grievance was the high licence fee imposed by an authoritative officialdom. A high license fee meant that money was spent and a tax levied from the family income before any money was earned. The gold licence and the mode of collecting it meant that women, children and men suffered.

Stephen Cummings, a gold miner and a witness at the 1855 Commission of Enquiry said that ‘The present system’, was ‘bad’ where ‘a man could be taken away from his family if he could not produce his licence’. Men were fined £5 for being without a licence, or often arrested for up to two weeks or more. On 28 October 1854 one gold digger, whose licence had only just expired, and who had no money, ‘had to borrow half a bag of sugar … for [his] wife and children’. The Magistrate made no distinctions, the men were fined and the digger hunts continued. Many such incidents occurred with diggers being hunted down, charged, and fined every morning. If their husbands were arrested for not having licences, circumstances for women and children were dire, considering that there was no social welfare or charities such as Benevolent Asylums yet established in Ballarat.

Another point of aggravation was that neither women nor their gold digger husbands had a vote or representation in parliament, and therefore no say in the laws that governed them. It was therefore highly likely that at least some women attended the ‘Monster Meetings’ and that such a physical presence made a statement.

Women also may have had a key role in making the Eureka Flag. The Flag, representing the Southern Cross, with white stars on a dark blue background, a symbol of united resistance, was unfurled and according to the Ballarat Times, flown on an eighty-foot pole at the ‘Monster Meeting’ of 29 November 1854 at Bakery Hill. The diggers took the ‘Oath of the Southern Cross’ underneath this flag. They knelt, and with heads uncovered pointed to the banner and said, ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’

There are several grounds to suggest that women may have sewn this iconic Eureka Flag, although these are hotly contested. The colour and design, and the provenance of the Flag are also open to conjecture.

The Flag on display in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery is a huge ensign measuring around 4 metres by 2.6 metres. It is constructed from several pieces of very fine blue woollen fabric, which has a high sheen. Pieces of cotton twill have been used for the cross, and pieces of fine cotton lawn, often also used in women’s petticoats, have been used for the stars. The seams are flat felled, very fine, and the exemplary hand stitching is thought to have been executed by different seamstresses, as changes in needlework style have been identified. The quality and fineness of the stitching suggests that women sewed the flag.

Historian Withers claimed that ‘it was largely rumoured … that the diggers’ flag was made’ by two women. ‘But all they seem to know is that they made a flag to somebody’s order in the usual way of their business at that time.’

A family tradition however has been passed down through another family of Withers that three women sewed the Flag. Evidence that dressmaker Anastasia Withers, the mother of young children and pregnant with another child, may have played a part in the sewing of the flag came to light in the early 1970s according to oral family history. During the restoration of the Eureka Flag Withers’ great-great granddaughter, Val D’Angri, found a dressmaker’s pin, hidden in one of the seams. There was also a ‘W’ mark near a point of the star on the right hand side of the Flag. It looked as though it had been inscribed with some sort of waxy substance. It was within 30 centimetres of where the dressmaker’s pin was found.

Evidence from the Gaynor-Duke family history reinforced this supposition. Anne Duke was said to have sewn the stars on the Eureka flag. Anne’s brothers carried goods between Ballarat and Melbourne, and her parents opened a store at the Bendigo diggings, so she could possibly have met Anastasia Withers there. Mrs Coleman wrote ‘I have proof of my great-grandparents being at Eureka … [and that] Anne (Gaynor) Duke … had helped in the sewing of the Eureka flag’. Len Fox also notes that ‘Ann [Duke] had helped sew the Eureka Southern Cross Flag’, although this evidence is not substantial.

Women’s roles were varied during the battle and the aftermath of Eureka. The next section focuses on women at the time of the battle. Women were at or near the site of the Eureka battle hindering menfolk in participating in the battle, avoiding the fighting, supporting their families and offering relief. Some women acted to prevent their men from participating in the Eureka battle. Bridget Hynes for example, according to her epitaph in the Leongatha cemetery, hid her husband’s ‘pike and pants’.

Hynes displayed agency in actively hindering her husband however it is reported that she later ran towards the gunfire at the Stockade and helped to protect the insurgents from the soldiers’ bayonets. These actions indicate that Hynes embodied practice oscillated from family concerns to wider issues and that she exercised agency both against and for the cause of Eureka possibly indicating personal rather than political agency and showing the difficulty she may have had in reaching such actions and decisions.

A stockade had been erected on the Eureka Lead and when government troops attacked in the early hours of Sunday 3 December 1854 it was quickly overrun. The ferocity of the battle is well documented, and eloquent testimony has been given to the bravery displayed by the Stockaders. The battle lasted for around twenty minutes with about 30 men killed and many wounded. Over 100 were arrested but the thirteen men who were eventually charged with treason were not convicted and a large proportion of the community saw the grievances of the Ballarat people as authentic and reasonable.

Samuel Thomas Gill, Ballaarat Flat, from the Black Hill - 1855, lithograph on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ronald Wrigley Estate, 1979.

Many women and men had left the scene immediately before the battle. Some women such as Scottish born Agnes Greig, sixteen years of age at the time of Eureka, wrote their own accounts, which were later published. Agnes, for example, saw the women and children at Eureka heading off towards Black Hill in the immediate moments before the battle. These could have been the Curtains, Costellos or Connellys. Patrick Curtain had a store inside the stockade and ‘tried to remove his family’. Lanty Costello, an ex-convict, gave evidence that he left his tent with his family ‘for a place of safety about a mile from the stockade’. John Connelly also ‘left with his family’.

Why then did other women remain within the Stockade, or in near proximity to it, knowing that the soldiers and police were attacking with a well organised and armed force? Given that there appeared to be some general recognition that there was time to evacuate some women and children I suggest that those who remained consciously participated in this political action and in the Eureka Affair.

During the time of the battle women were not only in the vicinity, but actively engaging in activities and promoting the causes of the gold diggers from inside the Eureka Stockade. Elizabeth Wilson for example, reported that she loaded the gun for her husband inside the Stockade and later hid a miner under her hooped petticoat. Elizabeth Wilson and her husband owned a grocery store on Eureka. Her grandson, Mr Robert Wilson related family stories of events that took place at Eureka and described her as wild and willful with a formidable and authoritative nature. Her actions go beyond the normal boundaries of a lady storekeeper of the time and show that she fought against the authorities, supported her husband and the miners, and showed courageous and active resistance.

Martha Clendinning was a woman who reluctantly gave up her pair of pistols to Alfred Black one of the leaders of the insurgents. Anne Duke, Mrs Parker, and Anne Diamond gave eyewitness accounts from inside the Eureka Stockade of the raging battle. Anne Duke hid with a Mrs Parker behind the logs around their tent from where they heard the sound of gunfire and bullets striking the utensils in the tent. Anne Duke’s clothes were riddled with shot. Anne Diamond watched as her husband was brutally murdered and her store set on fire by the authorities. She later sought compensation.

In mixed-gender situations, such as the position at Eureka, the participation of women, due to gender role expectations, usually differs from that of men and tends to replicate the gendered divisions of labour in society. At Eureka women cared for members of family and friends, tended the wounded at the Stockade, laid handkerchiefs over the faces of the dead, and other roles categorised as ‘domestic’ or within a woman’s domain.

Familial ties and family responsibilities may have been the reason that some women like Anne Duke or Anastasia Hayes participated in this social protest. Sometimes women were obliged to follow their husbands or brothers political points of view. Anne had married George Duke, a miner, on 8 March 1854 at Chewton near Castlemaine and they moved to Ballarat a few months before the Eureka Stockade was stormed on 3 December 1854. Their tent was within the Stockade. Duke was caught up in the middle of the battle. Her brother Thomas Gaynor helped conceal Peter Lalor. Duke was thus physically and emotionally involved in the Eureka affair by her presence inside the Stockade and through both her husband and her brothers.

Some women’s comments and actions were politically aware and active. Anastasia Hayes openly complained ‘loud and long about the ruthless oppression of the miners by the British authorities – many of whom were corrupt, and all supercilious and overbearing – and the iniquitous gold licence tax, with its brutal methods of collection’. Anastasia and her husband Timothy were keen supporters of Peter Lalor. Timothy had chaired the first meeting held at Bakery Hill and he was arrested at the Eureka Stockade and charged with treason. Anastasia’s obituary noted that she was ‘acquainted with the leaders of that movement [Eureka]’ and that she ‘took a prominent part in the most stirring times conducted with the history of Ballarat. … On the morning of the 3rd December she encountered the troops returning for the storming of the stockade and seeing her husband handcuffed between two horseman, she, at great personal risk, reached his side and forcibly remonstrated with his captors’. Anastasia displayed unswerving nerve, courage and political spirit in demonstrating with her husband’s captors. She was near the scene of the battle. She wrote that she ‘saw many of the wounded’, and did ‘all that lay in [her] power to alleviate their sufferings’. The ‘sight was one that touched me very much’ she reported in her first hand account, ‘and I shall never forget it. Many of the poor fellows were besmeared with blood and writhing in agony from some wound’. She was likely to have been emotionally affected by the brutal onslaught, and was politically active in the face of personal danger. Anastasia Hayes publicly and vocally fought for what was rightly hers. She constantly and publicly supported Timothy, her husband.

Women were at the amputation of Peter Lalor’s arm in Rev. Patrick Smyth’s tent on the Eureka Lead, a few hundred metres from the Stockade where the battle had taken place that morning. These actions could be seen as traditional gender roles. Lalor, the leader of the insurgents had been badly wounded during the battle, and hidden under slabs at the Stockade. Anastasia Hayes with Nancy Quinane, were said to be present at the amputation of the arm. Withers notes that Mrs Hayes assisted at the amputation. “Two tables,” she said, “were set side by side, and Lalor was laid upon them. Father Smyth was going to hold the basin, but he was nervous, and said to me, ‘Can you hold it?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I can.’ Dr Doyle seemed timid too, and Lalor cried out, ‘Courage, courage, take it off,’ and it was done.’ Hayes assisted as ‘three sacks were filled with the blankets, sheets, and things that were soaked with the blood from the arm and the wine given [Lalor] to drink, and the arm was put in with the clothes’, then McGrath, the schoolmaster, and Phelan disposed of the dismembered limb in an abandoned shaft.

Samuel Thomas Gill, The Invalid Digger, c1852, watercolour and gum arabic on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, gift of Mr. Tony Hamilton and Miss. S.E. Hamilton, 1967.

Some women were also active after the battle. Phoebe Emerson is said to have hastily concealed two insurgents, Black and Scobie, in her store after the battle. One hid under a palliasse and the other in an empty crate. She recounted that her store was searched three times by mounted troopers, who warned her that her sick husband and herself would be shot if found giving assistance to any escapees from the Stockade battle.

These women were risking their own lives by their actions. Theirs were acts of considerable courage and political fortitude. What were the repercussions had these women been suspected by the authorities and found, not only in Lalor’s or any other insurgent’s company, but aiding and abetting them? Lalor, for example, was wanted on the charge of High Treason, a charge punishable by death, and a substantial ransom was put out for his capture.

It has been shown that women were not merely passive bystanders when they witnessed the battle in the early hours of that bloody Sunday morning. When they searched in vain for their husbands and fathers who were missing, the thoughts that encompassed them, as shown by later testaments such as those from the Geelong Advertiser were of despair and horror.

Women used intellectual embodied practice in the aftermath and fought for their legal rights. They took a positive subject position in applying for and seeking compensation. Anne Diamond’s husband had been killed in their tent store, which was inside the stockade. Alpheus Boynton a carter from Geelong who saw the attack on Diamond wrote from Ashby, Geelong on 10 December 1854 that The conduct of the soldiers generally through the whole has been anything but that of men, and some have brought upon themselves everlasting disgrace for what true soldier would discharge his musket at an innocent and helpless female standing in front of her tent? and yet such was the case with some of the brutes clothed in uniform. Diamond had to seek forms, fill them out and file for compensation. She insisted when seeking compensation that she had had nothing to do with the riots and it was unfortunate that the stockade was built where it was, encompassing her store, which was ‘half in and half out of’ the stockade. Diamond had to physically defend her position answering questions put to her by authorities at the hearing for compensation.

Clara Seekamp played a different but important part in the aftermath. Clara produced a radical language response, illustrating her political prowess and ability to use words to further the cause in which she and her husband believed. Her husband Henry Seekamp, the editor of the Ballarat Times was charged with sedition as he was completing his editorial on Monday 4 December. The newspaper carried the caption that the editor had been arrested. Seekamp was subsequently sentenced to six months gaol. Clara ran the paper in his absence. Her editorial was described by the Argus on at least one occasion, as outspoken, startling in tone, and liberal and energetic in its use of words such as ‘sedition’, ‘liberty’ and ‘oppression’.

Although the battle at Eureka was short and few deaths occurred in comparison to the great wars throughout the centuries, it had a profound effect on the Colony of Victoria. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne called a meeting to support the government, but this was taken over by the majority who supported the Ballarat diggers and on 6 December a ‘Monster Meeting in Melbourne declared that the unconstitutional proceedings of the miners had been due to provocation, and condemned the whole policy of the government’. On the same day in Ballarat there was a huge meeting at Bakery Hill which reinstated the ‘moral force’ leader, John Basson Humffray as leader of the Ballaarat Reform League, in the absence of Peter Lalor.

The whole of the goldfields administration was subsequently overhauled and revised. Although many of the political demands put forward by the Ballaarat Reform League such as manhood suffrage had been drafted and conceded almost twelve months before the Eureka Affair, a Royal Commission was set up in 1855 to investigate the miners’ grievances. The recommendations of the Commission were such that the administration of the goldfields was abolished, and the goldfields commissioners were replaced with locally elected Courts of Mines, the first being formed at Bakery Hill in mid 1855. The miners’ licence was abolished in 1855 and replaced by a miners’ right, which allowed the miner to both dig for gold and to vote.

Importantly, the authorities were challenged because of the Eureka Affair, and more radical political changes were enacted than would otherwise have been the case. Women and men asserted their ideas and rights to resist perceived injustices. The massive demonstrations of democratic sentiment and the stand taken by men and women at Eureka, significantly changed colonial public opinion and made a profound political difference in the first and subsequent governments of Victoria.

Some women were active during Eureka in exercising their political agency during this social revolt. They were loading guns, supporting their husbands, providing weapons, tending the wounded and dying, hiding the insurgents, hindering potential participants in the battle, seeking and gaining compensation for the government’s misdemeanours, or demonstrating effective political journalism. Women at Eureka showed more than a commitment and loyalty to their men and families. They supported the causes inherent in the Eureka Affair in openly defying the government forces by helping those branded as insurgents and those charged with treason. One urged others, through newspaper editorial, to follow the egalitarian causes in which she believed. Another challenged the government legally by demanding compensation for the burning of her tent. The extent to which some women of Eureka sought justice and equality through the political system suggests that they exercised some political agency. They reacted against specific grievances such as the licence tax and towards a more democratic and egalitarian political viewpoint. Some women demonstrated their capacity for political agency in the face of patriarchal society and the extreme circumstances we now know as Eureka. In the early hours of that fateful summer morning on 3 December 1854 on the Ballarat gold fields much blood was spilt and many tears were shed. The women of Eureka were not merely present, but demonstrated their capacity for independent action in the face of often overwhelming odds, blood, sweat and tears.

Also See

Women of Eureka
  1. See Australian Journal of Colonial History for full referencing