George Thomson

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Red Ribbon Movement monument in Rosalind Park, Bendigo, 2013, Courtesy Ballarat Heritage Services
Samuel Thomas Gill, Diggers Hut, Forest Creek, c1852, watercolour and gum arabic on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, gift of Mr. Tony Hamilton and Miss. S.E. Hamilton, 1967.
Bendigo Goldfields Petition Cover, August 1853. State Library of Victoria (MS 12440) 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 recognise 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.

Background

George Edward Thomson was born on 03 October 1826, at Coupar Angus, Perthshire, Scotland. He studied law in London before arriving in Australia on the Blorenge in November 1852. Thomson married Rosalind Harper in Daylesford in 1863. [1]

George Thomson died on 17 January 1889, and is buried in the Back Creek Cemetery.[2]

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

George Thomson was a Chartist who moved to Bendigo in 1853, and was active in the formation of the Anti-Gold-License Association in June 1853.[3]

Political deliberation is the poor man's right arm. It brought the Magna Carta to the barons, Catholic emancipation to the Irish, and triumphant repeal of the Corn Laws for the people of England. Surely it would bring democracy to the gold diggers of Victoria. George Thomson, Chartist and Leader of the Red Ribbon Movement, August 1853.


THE LATE CAPTAIN HARRISON.
(To the Editor of the Bendigo Advertiser.)
Sir,-Your Melbourne correspondent in his letter which appeared in your issue of to-day, gives a short account of the career of the late Captain Harrison on Bendigo during the anti licence agitations of the period, which, let me say, is incorrect in several particulars, and which, in justice to the deceased gentleman's memory, I wish to correct. Captain Harrison never entered into an engagement to hold meetings at the Black Swan in opposition to the digger's meetings conducted by the late Robert Benson and myself in front of the Shamrock. The facts are these: We only held two or three meetings there, and on the same days "Captain" Brown - with whom we would have nothing to do - held opposition meetings at the Black Swan, and which were better attended than ours for a time or two, until the novelty of his appearance wore off. The "bullock dray" too, must be pure imagination, as on the two or three occasions we met near the Shamrock, we had a platform erected. The last time I remember hearing Captain Harrison address the diggers, was at one of our meetings held where All Saints' Church now stands, and at a subsequent meeting I distinctly remember my making a collection for him, he being in poor circumstances at the time. Captain Harrison never had much to do with the anti-licence movement started by G.E. Thompson, Captain Brown, Dr Wall, Mr Hopkins, and myself, he having retired from the field after his efforts were successful in preventing the licence tax being raised from 30s to L3.
I am sir, yours truly,
W.D.C. DENOVAN,
Golden-square, 24th July, 1869.[4]


THE LATE CAPTAIN HARRISON.
(To the Editor of the Bendigo Advertiser.)
Sir,-Your Melbourne correspondent in his letter which appeared in your issue of to-day, gives a short account of the career of the late Captain Harrison on Bendigo during the anti licence agitations of the period, which, let me say, is incorrect in several particulars, and which, in justice to the deceased gentleman's memory, I wish to correct. Captain Harrison never entered into an engagement to hold meetings at the Black Swan in opposition to the digger's meetings conducted by the late Robert Benson and myself in front of the Shamrock. The facts are these: We only held two or three meetings there, and on the same days "Captain" Brown - with whom we would have nothing to do - held opposition meetings at the Black Swan, and which were better attended than ours for a time or two, until the novelty of his appearance wore off. The "bullock dray" too, must be pure imagination, as on the two or three occasions we met near the Shamrock, we had a platform erected. The last time I remember hearing Captain Harrison address the diggers, was at one of our meetings held where All Saints' Church now stands, and at a subsequent meeting I distinctly remember my making a collection for him, he being in poor circumstances at the time. Captain Harrison never had much to do with the anti-licence movement started by G.E. Thompson, Captain Brown, Dr Wall, Mr Hopkins, and myself, he having retired from the field after his efforts were successful in preventing the licence tax being raised from 30s to L3.
I am sir, yours truly,
W.D.C. DENOVAN,
Golden-square, 24th July, 1869.[5]

Post 1854 Experiences

Thomson was a sympathiser with those involved at the Eureka Stockade, and gave evidence at the Royal Commission into the Eureka uprising. He set up a legal practice in Castlemaine, serving on the Local Council. In 1875 he moved back to Bendigo.[6]

Obituary

DEATH OF MR. GEORGE EDWARD THOMSON.
Death has removed another of the links that bind the early days of Bendigo to the present, Mr. G. E. Thomson, who died yesterday morning, having been one of the few remaining participators in the agitations which made the years of 1851, 1852, 1853, and 1854 famous in Bendigo history. It has been known for a very long time past that he has been in failing health, and the news of his death will not be much of a surprise. He was under the treatment of Dr. Atkinson, and it will be remembered that about three months ago he suffered from a very sudden illness, which nearly had a fatal result. His health since then has been very precarious. On Tuesday night he left home with the intention of proceeding to Echuca, and it was thought he had proceeded by the evening train, until Wednesday morning when he was discovered in an unconscious state in his office at Albion Chambers. He was removed to his residence at Hustler's Hill Terrace, but never recovered his senses, and died quietly yesterday morning at 11 o'clock. As Dr. Atkinson was unable to certify to the cause of death it became necessary that a magisterial inquiry should be held. Mr. J. C. Stamp held the inquiry, and the evidence of Dr. Atkinson elicited the fact that death was due to an over-dose of chlorodyne, which the deceased was in the habit of taking. It is surmised that Mr. Thomson took the chlorodyne previous to setting out from his office to the railway station, and, taking an overdose, fell into the state of unconsciousness in which he was found. Mr. Stamp recorded a verdict accordingly.
Mr. Thomson, as we have mentioned already, took a foremost part in the movements of early Bendigo, and his name will always be prominently associated with the anti-license agitation. But previous to his advent in Victoria he had taken an active part in English politics. He was born at Coupar Angus, in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1825. He was very highly connected, many of his relations holding influential positions, his mother being a Miss Oliphant, of Gask, and his father a nephew of General Sir George Elliott. He was educated at Sutton Valence, near Maid-stone, in Kent, and also at a Grammar school at Hertfordshire, where he was a schoolmate of the late judge Fellows. He took up his abode in London at the age of 16, becoming connected with a lawyer's office. He came in contact with many prominent men in the world's metropolis, and took a part in the Cornlaw and Chartist agita-tions, being intimately acquainted with the leaders of these movements.
In August, 1852, he sailed from England in the ship Blorenge, and in November of that year he arrived on the Forest Creek diggings. In April ensuing, he joined the main rush to Bendigo. It was in 1853 that the agitations on the goldfields had reached a height. Not only were the diggers dissatisfied with the iniquitous license fee of 30s. per month, but the whole population was harrassed by the mode in which the authorities collected it, and their tyrannical conduct also in reference to the sale of liquor. That the people on the goldfields should be treated with such severity did not accord with their notions of the rights and privileges of an English population, and very soon steps were taken to obtain a redress of the grievances under which they labored. This subject has been referred to so often, and the his-tory of the various movements has been given so recently in the columns of the Advertiser, that it will hardly be necessary here to refer to it at great length. Mr. Thomson's prominent connection with it, however, demands a reference to the part he took. Although the movement was known as the anti-license agitation, its programme provided for an effort to obtain a change in the laws relating to the trade in spirituous liquor, the reduction of the license fee, and enfranchisement of the diggers. The movement of 1853 is well described in an article by Mr. Thomson himself, entitled "Leaves from the diary of an old Bendigonian," which was published in the jubilee history of Victoria. Mr. Thomson speaks with authority, for he was the leader of this movement on Bendigo. He was a fluent and powerful speaker, and possessed the tact and foresight so necessary in a trusted general. At a meeting held in the Camp Reserve, near where Charing Cross now is, on the 6th June, 1853, the licensing system and the tyrannical proceedings of the camp officials were denounced in no measured terms. A memorial was prepared in reference to this and other questions, and at the end of July it had been signed by 23,000 diggers of Bendigo and Castlemaine, 8,000 signatures from M'Ivor swelling it up to 31,000. The memorial was taken to Melbourne for presentation, Mr. Thomson being one of the delegates, but the reply of the Lieutenant-Governor (Mr. La Trobe) was, that the Government were not inclined to make any change in the existing laws. "He was satisfied the diggers were mere grievance mongers, and that he knew what was his duty, and he would do it at all risks. If the diggers troubled the Government much more, he would let them hear how cannon could roar. While in Melbourne the delegates held a meeting at the Protestant Hall, which was crowded. The delegates made a good impression by their relation of the state of affairs on the goldfields, and an opinion was arrived at by the meeting that efforts should be made to remove as far as possible the grievances complained of. While the delegates were in Melbourne, troops arrived on Bendigo. The raids on the diggers for their licenses were carried out more resolutely than ever, and it was said that public meetings were in future to be prohibited on the goldfield. On the return of the dele-gates from Melbourne some 15,000 or 20,000 diggers assembled. The central committee was called together, and it was decided to bring the question to an issue before the end of the month. "On the 21st of August (to quote 'Young Bendigonian,' writing in this journal), a mass meeting was held at the Hospital Hill, and every digger in sympathy with the movement wore a red ribbon as a badge, and, as may be imagined, red ribbon became a valuable article of stock with the storekeepers. Mr. Thomson says it may fairly be estimated that 90 per cent. adopted this simple mode of showing their sympathy with the movement. The dangers of a disturbance became very serious, and the camp officials, with their military, were very apprehensive of an attack. Another meeting was held some days later, at which it was decided to tender 10s. as the license fee. Ten persons selected by the meeting went to the camp of the commissioners and tendered the 10s., which was refused, but a promise was made that a messenger should be despatched to Melbourne with an account of what had taken place, and an assurance was given that no molestation would be offered to the people assembled. The diggers at Waranga and other places were at this time showing an opposition to the tax and the system which prevailed, which would take no denial, and at length the legislature were obliged to take the subject into consideration. The commission to inquire into the grievances of the diggers followed, and eventually resulted in the passing of the Goldfields Bill, in which it was provided that the license fee should be reduced from 30s. per month to 13s, 4d."
In the latter part of 1853 Mr. Thomson and Mr. J. H. Abbott, believing that the establishment of a newspaper in support of the cause of the digging population would be the means of aiding the movement, started the "Diggers' Advocate." That journal was printed in Melbourne, Mr. Thomson and Mr. Ebenezer Syme being the chief contributors. The paper was powerfully written, but the disadvantages against which the originators of it had to contend were too great; and it eventually succumbed.
Mr. Thomson was absent from Bendigo for 12 months after this, during the movement for the total abolition of the license tax which culminated in the Eureka Stockade riots. His name does not figure prominently in subsequent movements until the land question came into prominence in 1857. In July of that year he and Mr. Benson were appointed the Bendigo delegates to the Land Convention held in Melbourne.
Mr. Thomson had always held liberal views on the land question, and some years before he had been successful in his efforts to convert into agricultural lands for the people the pastoral land monopolised in the squatting interest by Mr. Hector Norman Simpson. At the close of the land convention Mr. Thomson returned to Sandhurst with an account of the results of his mission, and the eventual success of the move-ment is well known. Mr. Thomson then went to the Grampians, near Stawell, on a prospecting tour, gold having been discovered at Ararat and Stawell. His readiness to give a helping hand in any movement which commended itself to him led him to give valuable assistance to the people of Stawell in the matter of the registration of voters. Subsequently Mr. Thomson resided at Castlemaine, where he became associated with Mr. Painter, the well-known solicitor. While there, great reliance was placed in him by the public, on account of his shrewdness and ability. He resumed his studies for the law which had been discontinued after he left England, and shortly afterwards opened a branch of the firm's business in Daylesford. After being admitted as a solicitor, he continued to prac-tise at Daylesford, and took a leading part in local movements, being elected a member of the borough council. In 1875 he returned to Sandhurst and became a partner of Mr. J. T. Saunders. Upon the death of the latter he as-sumed sole control of the business, and has prac-ticed in this city ever since. Mr. Thomson has not been an active participant in public movements for many years, although when the recent New Guinea question was a prominent sub-ject of discussion he was induced to come out of his retirement and speak to one of the motions submitted. Mr. Thomson was a contributor to the local press, and on two or three occasions lately gave lectures on the early days of Bendigo. To those who were able to claim a long acquaintance with him, however, was but a shadow of his former self, for there was an entire absence of the brilliancy and pointedness which had characterised his speaking when he was able to carry thousands with him in the early days.
Those who knew him best considered Mr. Thom-son a man or conspicuous ability, and exceedingly well informed on every variety of subject. He was gifted with an excellent memory, and until late years was able to refer to events of thirty years ago with remarkable accuracy. Although he never occupied any high position as a citizen, his name will ever be associated with the move-ments of the early days. And what service can be looked upon with more gratefulness than that performed in laying the foundations of the future greatness of a young community, and in securing for it its first recognition as a power in the State. To Mr. Thomson and other old Bendigonians— many of them now dead—belongs the honor of such an achievement, and upon them and their memories the younger generation must perforce look with respect and veneration.
Mr. Thomson has left a widow and two sons and three daughters. The funeral will take place this morning at 11 o'clock, the place of interment being the Back Creek Cemetery.[7]

See also

Bendigo Goldfields Petition

Chartism

George Thompson

Red Ribbon Rebellion

Further Reading

Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.

References

  1. Corfield, J., Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
  2. Corfield, J., Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
  3. Corfield, J., Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
  4. Bendigo Advertiser, 26 July 1869.
  5. Bendigo Advertiser, 26 July 1869.
  6. Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
  7. Bendigo Advertiser, 18 January 1889.

External links

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thomson-george-edward-4716/text7761