David Armstrong

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Reinforcements - Troops Arriving from Melbourne, This image shows the Camp at Ballarat West, know Camp Street. Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection.
Henry Winkles, Untitled [inside view of tent], 1850s, watercolour, pencil on paper.
Courtesy Art Gallery of Ballarat, Purchased with funds from the Colin Hicks Caldwell Bequest, 2004.


Mentioned on Rev. T.J. Linnane's List.[1]

David Armstrong was the third child of Thomas and Mary. He was born at Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland in 1820. Kay Gibson notes that 'the rapid urbanization of the country and the effect of this upon the traditional livelihood of its poorer citizens may have led the Armstrong family to seek a better future for themselves [in Australia]. [2] The family emigrated on the barque David Clarke leaving Greenock, Scotland and reaching Hobsons Bay after a voyage of 134 days.

Armstrong worked as a blacksmith and farrier in Melbourne and Gippsland before emigrating to America. He then returned to Australia in 1851.

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Armstrong pursued a government career, where as Assistant Crown Land Bailiff her accompanied Henry Dana, the Commandant of the Native Police and William H. Wright, Commissioner, to Clunes in July 1851. His experiences overseas stood him in good stead, enabling him to show Commissioner Doveton the correct way to weigh and pack gold, and to put forward guidelines for the gold diggers.[3]He was appointed an Assistant Gold Commissioner by February 1852.

The role of David Armstrong has been 'misrepresented, particularly through the vitriolic pen of William Howitt'. [4] Howitt depicted Armstrong as 'an example of the government's poor administration of the goldfields'. [5]

Post 1854 Experiences


David Armstrong died on 26 March 1883 in a Melbourne hospital, in poor circumstances. [6] The Friends of the late Mr. DAVID ARMSTRONG are respectfully invited to follow his remains to the place of interment, Melbourne Cemetery.[7]

In the News

NEW APPOINTMENTS.— His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to appoint John Carfrae, Compton Gerard Ferrers, Norman Campbell, Robert Carey, Hugh Culling, Eardley Childers, Edward Grimes, Lewis Gilles, George Napier Craig, Thomas Denis Stratford Heron, George Macdonald Lowther, Virginius Murray, James Montgomery (Mount Fyans), Joseph Anderson Panton, David Arm- strong, D'Arcy Haggit, Octavius Phillpots, William Templeton, John Alexander Smith, and John Wilkinson, Esquires, to be magistrates for the Colony of Victoria and its dependencies ...[8]

Amongst the old identities of Ballarat who have intimated their intention of being present at the Pioneers banquet is Mr. David Armstrong, who was the first official who issued a gold licence on Ballarat. Mr. Armstrong will be well and favourably remembered by many of the residents of Melbourne previous to 1851.[9]

A NOTORIOUS CHARACTER. - "Atticus," in the Melbourne Leader, writes as follows :- "There are few old diggers who cannot tell stories of the days when David Armstrong was superintendent of police on the gold fields. In the old regime of irresponsible government the man in the colony most cordially detested was Armstrong. The laws for the government of the digging population, unjust and oppressive in principle, were rendered tenfold more obnoxious by the tyrannical and arbitrary manner in which he carried them out. He harried the diggers from a feeling of pure sport. He rounded up the unlicensed ones in mobs, and chained them in batches to logs in the Government camps. On old Bendigo, in '52, I have seen in one day a dozen shanties fired by his order, for the offence of having more than the regulation quantity of two gallons of spirits found in them. To him, more than to any one man, may we ascribe the exasperation of feeling that led to the outbreak at Ballarat; and to the re action against his rule may we ascribe the goldfields commission of 1854, and the subsequent legislation that caused diggers to be recognised as ordinary human beings. For the sake of old friends on the diggings, who may not read the daily papers, I should like to chronicle the fact that ex-superintendent and justice of the peace David Armstrong is at the present moment serving a sentence of fourteen days' imprisonment for stealing a brass ring from a fellow lodger in an hotel. He escaped for all he did to the diggers in the old time, and gets locked up for stealing a brass ring."[10]
Samuel Thomas Gill, Refreshment Shanty, Ballarat, 1854, watercolour and gum arabic on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, gift from the Estate of Lady Currie, 1963.
A REMINISCENCE OF '52. (To the Editor of. the Advertiser.) Sir, — Reading in the Argus of Thursday last of the death of David Armstrong, who in the early days held the post of Inspector of Police on Bendigo, recalls to my mind an episode of those rough times in which Armstrong played a prominent part. One afternoon in December of that year a great commotion, with cries of "murder," proceeded from a grog tent belonging to a man known as Crib Williams, when I, along with the crowd, ran to see what was up. On getting there we saw Williams streaming with blood, Armstrong having gone to Williams' tent and ordered it to be pulled down. On Williams remonstrating with him, Armstrong struck him on the head with a loaded whip, which nearly killed him. The crowd were indignant, and would have lynched Armstrong on the spot, but just in the nick of time about a dozen mounted troopers arrived and surrounded Armstrong, and amidst the groaning and yelling of the crowd all rode away to the camp, some four miles distant. Now that his digger hunting days are over, it is to be hoped that he has gone to a happier hunting ground, but no one armed in a little brief authority ever acted the bully with greater gusto than David Armstrong. And many a better man than he has gone down into the grave without one word of eulogy in their favor being written by the public Press, for it was he and the like of him that exasperated the residents of the goldfields to such an extent that ultimately ended in the Eureka Stockade, where the present Speaker in the Assembly lost an arm, and for which, at one time, £1,000 was offered for his body. In the paragraph alluded to, Mr. Panton's name is mentioned, but the two names ought never to be classed together, for if Mr. Panton at any time had occasion, in the execution of his duty to come in contact with the diggers, the business was done in a manly manner, he being as much respected on Bendigo in '52 as he is in the metropolis in '83.
Yours, sir,

See also

Further Reading


  1. Names in the Eureka Story, self published, c1972.
  2. Kay J. Gibson, 'Inspector David Armstrong' IN Journal of Police History, Summer Edition 1996-97, pp. 13-19
  3. Kay J. Gibson, 'Inspector David Armstrong' IN Journal of Police History, Summer Edition 1996-97, p. 13
  4. Kay J. Gibson, 'Inspector David Armstrong' IN Journal of Police History, Summer Edition 1996-97, p. 13
  5. William Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold, Lowden Publishing Company, 1972; Kay J. Gibson, 'Inspector David Armstrong' IN Journal of Police History, Summer Edition 1996-97, pp. 13-19
  6. Kay J. Gibson, 'Inspector David Armstrong' IN Journal of Police History, Summer Edition 1996-97, p. 13.
  7. The Argus, 29 March 1883.
  8. Geelong Advertiser, 21 May 1853.
  9. The Argus, 22 August 1872.
  10. Mont Gambier Border Watch, 29 March 1876.
  11. Bendigo Advertiser, 4 April 1883.

External links