Eureka 68, 1922

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ON a memorable Sunday in December, 64 years ago, the historic battle of Eureka was fought. The people of Ballarat commemorate this Sunday by an annual pilgrimage to the Eureka Stockade. Thee Stockade, to-day, is a pleasure resort, with a miniature lake, bandstands, swings, and other attractions. In the centre of this reserve stands a massive bluestone monument, with a flight of steps leading to the tiles on which stands an obelisk 12ft high bearing the words: EUREKA STOCKADE.
SUNDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 3rd, 1854 At each angle of the monument guns are placed. Every child in the district knows the story of the battle well; but on each anniversary it is retold; and the people never tire of hearing it. Until the anniversary of 1922 there was always a digger who had M^participated in the battle left to relate his version of the story: Now this last of that band of men has passed away; but amongst the speakers at the recent celebrations there were many eye-witnesses of the battle, and, one man spoke who, if he hadn't actually carried a pike, helped to make 'coffins' for the fallen.
PUBLIC sympathy has ever been with the diggers of if that time. They were smarting 'from a sense of political wrong and a loss of confidence in administration of law. But these grievances would have been redressed without bloodshed had they waited. The battle merely exemplified the rashness of a few diggers, and also the greater blunder of the Government. The license-hunters had acted in a ruthless manner; it was they who finally drove the diggers to take desperate .action. This feeling of injustice was abroad over the : whole of Victoria, but it culminated in Ballarat. The diggers only wanted to be treated as free men and to be governed by laws made by Parliaments in which they had representation. But, for all their rashness, those miners who fell at the Eureka Stockade should be honoured, and Ballarat does honour them. The battle was between the Queen's troops and the diggers.. The majority of men did not support the armed resistance, though all were goaded by the intolerable conduct of the 'digger-hunters,' as the collectors of licenses on the goldflelds were called.
THE Stockade was really intended as a screen behind which the diggers might drill rather than as a fortification. It was hurriedly enclosed with slabs; Vern was appointed 'Commander-in-Chief,' and Peter Lalor 'Minister of War.' Before the battle commenced pikes were forged here, and arms and ammunition collected. Several companies of pikemen and riflemen were formed, and a military insurgency established. Prior to the battle a mass meeting was held at Bakery Hill. Peter Lalor, gun in hand, mounted the stump. The Southern Cross flag was hoisted, and about 500 men knelt down Ground the flag and implored the help of God, and then began to drill. They swore mutual defence. The method of swearing in was most impressive. Every man raised his right hand, names were taken, and the men formed into squads. The password. given by Lalor was 'Vinegar Hill. Day and evening friends dropped into the Stockade and talked over events. Friendly tradesmen brought in food supplies. AT the time of the attack, which occurred before day break, there were barely 200 men in the Stockade. This attack was quite unexpected, most of the diggers being absent. Peter Lalor stood on top of the first logged-up hold commanding his company of muske teers and pikemen. When the command 'Charge!' was heard the. dragoons and troopers rushed the Stockade with fixed bayonets - and stormed the enclosure. The redcoats from the ' south and troopers from the north advanced in great numbers. They soon broke in the Stockade. The engagement lasted twenty-five minutes. The diggers' flag was carried off in triumph to the camp, which was on the slope at the north now known As Soldiers' Hill. The diggers were collected in groups and marched down the gully and taken in chains to camp. The Stockade, slabs, and tents were set on fire. Many were killed and wounded: The loss to the Queen's force was great, among those severely wounded being Captain Wise who died a few days later. Those who suffered most were the pikemeri; they stood their ground from first to last. Vern, the 'Commander-in-Chief,' escaped. A reward of £50 was offered for his apprehension. 'Peter Lalor lost his left arm in the engage ment; he afterwards escaped to Geelong. There is today an inmate of the Ballarat Benevolent Home who tells how he and his father hid Lalor, and smuggled him to Geelong in a covered cart. They travelled by night, and in the day secreted themselves in the scrub. They dared not light a fire. All along the route nailed to trees were dodgers offering £200 reward for the apprehen sion of Lalor.
THOSE were stirring times in Ballarat, and one only needs to listen to a group of pioneers talking around the Stockade to realise the fact. Many of these pioneers remember Ballarat when .the place, was pastoral lands, even before it was a mining camp, when black fellows mia-mias were the only habitation and when kangaroos and dingos were hunted in the forest where the city now is. A man could be heard tell-ing of a horse he had seen shod with gold. An other asked of an old pioneer: "Do you remember the time Charley's mate ate the pound note as a sandwich?' 'No,' replied his friend with veracity; 'but my wife picked up a five pound note which had been half burned to light a pipe. One told how nuggets had been aimed at the fowls, and in those days victims were bled for every complaint. 'I recollect,' said one old woman to an other, 'when a cat cost £1, and you couldn't get a dog for less than £10. And bread was then five shillings a loaf.' All agreed that the most stirring times in Ballarat were in the year 1854. ONE learned how the name of Eureka came to be given to the spot. The main lead had been lost and after much search it was found again at this spot, the finder calling out: 'Eureka! I have it!' A handsome monument has been erected to the memory of Peter Lalor. This stands in the centre of Sturt-street. And in the Ballarat cemetery are two imposing, well kept graves, one of which gives the names of the six British soldiers who fell dead or fatally wounded at the Stockade. The inscription reads : 'When attacking a band of aggrieved diggers in arms against what they regarded as a tyrannous administration.' At the foot of this monument are the words: 'Not far from this spot lie buried the remains of some diggers who fell in their courageous, but misdirected, endeavour to secure the freedom which soon afterwards came in the form of manhood suffrage. The latter monument bears the names of twenty-one diggers and the words: 'Who fell on the memorable Sunday, 3rd December, 1854, in resisting the unconstitutional proceedings of the Victorian Government.' — Annie S. Evans.[1]

References

  1. Syndey Mail, 27 December 1922.