Digger Hunting

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Digger Hunt from the Guardian Eureka Centenary Issue, University of Ballarat Historical Collection
Down With License Fee Poster Displayed at Sovereign Hill, 2016.
Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection
Digger Hunts from The Revolt at Eureka’ by R. Wenban. Schools Publishing House, 1959.
DIGGER HUNTING AT BALLARAT
To the Editor of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer.
SIR,— Permit me to call your attention to the recent harsh proceedings adopted here for the recovery of the diggers’ license tax.
Since the visit of Sir Charles Hotham an unusual degree of severity has been exercised towards the more unfortunate of the mining population, and why, I cannot imagine, unless, as the officials here are known for neglect in thief catching, they are anxious to show their utility in digger hunting, and to endeavour to prove a case for the continuance of the office of gold commissioner.
The diggings, for some days past, have indeed been vigorously "patrolled" by a large and armed Military Police force, with carbine, broad sword, and holster pistols, well mounted too, (making allowance for the small cost), and accompanied by the additional "protection" in the shape of foot police, with batons only visible. Now, a very new chum would see in this a great amount of zeal in the pursuit of the gangs of vagabonds who steal our horses, poison our dogs, and prowl around our tents at midnight, to take life and property, or both, but we know the truth. It is to enjoy the now common sport of digger hunting. Almost daily these "armed bands," headed by the valiant and renowned Cornet Spriggins, parade the ground, and demand if the toiling and honest creator of colonial wealth is possessed of a license. I know that a license fee must be paid. "The court awards it," but, Sir, is it to be endured, in a possession of the British Crown, that an armed police force may "bail up," and require the production of your badge in all places and at all times. And here I may, I hope, reasonably ask how you manage in town?
A Digger Hunt, University of Ballarat Historical Collection( Cat.No. 4170)
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.
We are ignorant and "wandering tribes," not much acquainted with civilised life up here. Does a military police parade your public ways, and ask you if you have paid your taxes? They do not so in England. If the law were humane, just, and discriminating, we could not, we ought not, to complain; and, if administered in a proper mode, it would be cheerfully borne. But poverty stretches its gaunt and withered hand on the diggings, as elsewhere, however many may be apt to believe and endeavour to prove the contrary. The unlicensed digger is, in nine cases out of ten, compelled, by sheer absolute need, to be without a license, and to expose himself to the chance of being heavily fined, or imprisoned, with common felons; and if he should still continue poor, he must, for the next offence, be still more inhumanly punished. I cannot tell by whose sage council the tax is enforced in so barbarous a manner, but whichever way it may be, it is a disgrace to a civilised government and demands, and should have, instant redress. Not content, as formerly, with asking for the license outside tents, they now enter them, and also the stores, and search so far as they dare, which is with the door in the rear. Two days ago a policeman came inside the store, and, looking round, said, "good day," and retired. At a loss to understand this mode of business, I enquired, and found that the fellow, under direction of the commissioners, actually came in search for diggers supposed to be stowed away. Such a very polite mode certainly deserves attention; and when I am visited again, I shall assist in the search in kicking the intruder out, if I can do so, "and the law on my side." Worse than this, these men in gold and silver lace, and armed from head to heel, have taken the aged and sick from their tents. The spectacle is presented to us of a wife taking round, for signature, a petition for the release of her husband from gaol, by reason of his poverty and ill health when captured by the valour of the men in arms. An old, and, as I know, very poor man, was lately sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for the heinous offence of having a license in a wrong name, which was current at the time, and had been made over to him by a party who had gone to town. It was an offence against law—but what a barbarous sentence—thrust into gaol with men under committal for felony. If discrimination cannot be used; if the successful are to pay the same as the unsuccessful; then the time has arrived for the total abolition of this most oppressive and inhumanly-collected tax, and, with it, the gold-lace, conceit, and broadcloth. The police might then be well spared from the camp, for we have (for what purpose who shall say) a regular body of infantry. At present the entire police duty appears to be digger-hunting, while the diggings are left, as Sturges Bourne wished to leave the poor, "to their own resources," for protection from violence and plunder.
John Foster, 1866 by John Botterill. State Library of Victoria Collection (H3)
John Foster was Acting Governor of Victoria from 8 May to 22 June 1854. This work was commissioned by Sir Redmond Barry and the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library in 1866.
I have already trespassed, at some length, on your space, but the subject is important, and my only desire, in addressing you, is to induce some more influential pen to enlist in the cause of the oppressed digger of whose interest no notice is taken in the maiden speech of the new Lieutenant-Governor, at which we should wonder did we not know that Johnny Foster is still Colonial Secretary. I enclose my name and address, and am, Sir,
Yours, &c.
AN ENGLISHMAN [1]
Commissioners Rede and Johnson have staged a licence hunt. Rede says he has received instructions form a hight authority to carry out his duty.
Amid uproar and disorder the officials are compelled to withdraw.
Some of the diggers go to Eureka, others to Red Hill, where they hoist the “Southern Cross.”
The Police have been ordered to shoot.
A running fire of small arms is kept up at a last-minute meeting called by Kennedy and Father Downing.
There is a long line of diggers on Bakery Hill giving their names. All appear to be armed.
The Resident Commissioner rode up to Mr Humffray, the secretary of the league, and said, ‘See now the consequences of your agitation.’ To which it was replied, ‘No! But I see the consequences of impolitic coercion.’[2]

In the News

RECOLLECTIONS OF THE BALLARAT INSURRECTION PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF THOSE HEROIC DAYS. DOINGS OF CAPTAIN DANA'S BLACK POLICE.
The Troopers, Their Sabres, and How They Used Them.
(By MONTAGUE MILLER.)
It might be of interest to some of the readers of your widespread journal to know more fully the experience of my participation in the events of the stirring Eureka Stockade days, which had their culmination in the tragic happening of Sunday break of day, the 3rd of December, 1854.
Though many compilations on those occurrences have been issued during later years, they have all had the disadvantage of being written by those who having NO PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE of the facts, had to make their literary work as viewed through the lens of the dim vista of half a century or more of time.
Most of these accounts have been written on the authority of information given by those who had been on the Ballarat diggings at the time, or were compiled from previous publications. Of those the most reliable are, first, that of Mr. W. B. Withers, chief reporter of the "Ballarat Star," who, during the period of friction between the Government and the diggers, from September 1, 1851, till the fatal 3rd December, 1854, was continually over all the diggings, securing each day and being fully informed on every incident of importance for his daily paper.
Next comes "Carboni Raffaello," Italian patriot, and a man of great intelligence, and a guiding spirit when the revolutionary stage developed. His book, containing a full account of the incidents lending up to the final catastrophe, is still recognised by those best able to judge, as a classic in the records of Eureka, and the causes underlying it.
Personally, I believe those two histories of the Australian insurrection are a faithful and sufficient account. The tribute of Withers to the subject is contained in a section of his "History of Ballarat." Notwithstanding the above opinion, I believe there is still room to say something by way of clearing away some of the misconceptions at present existing as to the nature of the movement, the causes that made it inevitable, and the character of the men who faced death, and in many cases died, that their children might be free.
The early gold discoveries in Victoria in the early spring of 1851 brought a tidal wave of population pouring over th4 two goldfields opened up, then known as Forest Creek and Ballarat, Victoria had the preceding year been granted separation from the northern colony, N.S.W.; but, not yet having the grant of the now constitution had no responsible government, and was still under tho old Legislative Council, a nominee body appoint ed by the authorities at Sydney, prior to separation. This Council was composed entirely of the pastoral class, and was representative of property interests only. A full understanding of this fact is essential to a grip of the whole meaning of the insurrection.
The first proclamation of the gold digging license was issued on December 1, 1851, and was fixed at 30s. per month, and was received with indignation by the digging population; and the ANSWER TO THEIR REMONSTRANCE as to the injustice and amount of the tax was a further proclamation on December 1 that the tax would be three pounds a month from that date. This was met by such a storm of protest from all parts of the fields — now extended by new discoveries and a rapidly increasing population that the Council and Governor Latrobe gave way, and for a time the license remained at the original amount till the increasing cost of ad ministration, ever rising with a greater in flux of population, impelled the Government to again raise the obnoxious tax to two pounds a month. Be it remembered the digging community was the only section taxed, and supplied the whole of the revenue for the squatters were making fortunes by supplying meat at enormous prices, and a large commercial class had sprung into existence in Melbourne, and there also, like the bucolic class, making great fortunes as importers and merchants, the young colony depending solely on oversea supplies.
Further, the collection of the license fee from its first imposition was of itself enough to raise a revolution. It was collected by an armed force of foot police, supplemented by CAPTAIN DANA'S BLACK POLICE, a troop of mounted aboriginals. Originally organised to track and run to earth bushrangers and station marauders of their own race, they were armed, and the Americans and the white Australians were shocked and revolted at being bailed up to show their license by armed savages invested with authority.
The digger hunts, as the police termed them, had by this time been fairly instituted, and were of daily occurrence. The method was: A strong and armed force of police would set out from the Camp Hill, and would sally over the area of the diggings, demanding of every man to produce his license. A failure or a refusal to do so meant immediate arrest with unnecessary violence. One handcuff was attached to the victim's right wrist, the other to the ring bolt in the trooper's saddle, and smart move was made to the police camp. If the prisoner objected to entertain his brutal captor with a trotting match with his horse, the reply to any remonstrance was to put the steed into a can tor; and it was make the pace or go down. Should the maltreated one resent this treatment and the jeers and foul imprecations and scurrilous epithets by replying in kind, OUT WOULD COME THE SABRE, and the prisoner would be thrashed with the flat of the weapon, and no matter if at timed it came down edge-wise. This old scribe has a goodly scalp decoration of that order. Big men of choleric temper, who would, with their free arm, strike back at their tyrant, captor with power of punch, would arrive at the camp to mutilated as to require surgical aid. One digger, Arnold, was so near done to death that it was for a time doubtful as to his Survival.
To be accused as a sanguinary dog of a digger, a son of anything but a woman and man, and peremptorily told to fork out your license, and be crimson quick about it, was about the standard of police official courtesy of those days.
Let it be fully remembered that the work of the digger is of a muddy and wet nature, and, after a licence form on a piece of flimsy blue paper had been produced, on demand, eight or ten times a day, with wet and dirty bands, it would, by the middle of the mouth, be the worse for wear; and at that stage of its currency it would be EXAMINED BY SOME BRAGGART and rejected as out of date, torn up, and the possessor summarily Marched off to prison, known as "The Logs," so called from its blockhouse structure. Usually "The logs" lock-up was crammed to Calcutta blackhole congestion by noon of a busy digger-hunting day, and the surplus of the catch would be locked with the handcuffs on each side of a line of chain stretched from tree to tree on Camp Hill. This exposure on a Ballarat winter night—perhaps a keen frost —was an experience to me that the greatest duration of life will never efface, and during all this brutality—on every goldfield as well as Ballarat—the great majority of the outraged and maltreated urged "moderation," and their slogan was, "whatever is done, don't let us take the law into our own hands; let us adopt constitutional means.
And many of these most prominent disciples of turn-the-other-cheek, 40 and 50 years after, got INTO THE LIMELIGHT as Eureka Stockaders, and figured as such at anniversary celebrations; and at the Jubilee Demonstration of 1904—in which this writer had a prominent position as a well known survivor of the historic Sunday morning, when the pioneers of freedom, from the flume of their stockade volleys, lit the torch of Liberty, that made a light and leading for their posterity for the succeeding half century.
The character and the general estimate of the men who stood in the vanguard of the movement, and the storming of the stockade and its defence, with an account of the events that precipitated the final act in the tragedy of the Eureka Stockade, must be, in consideration of your space, held over till your next issue.[3]

References

  1. Geelong Advertiser, 10 October 1854.
  2. The Argus,30 November, 1854.
  3. Melbourne Truth, 20 October 1917.