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The Hanlon – Millane Eureka Flag Fragment

July 2021

By Brian Millane (reproduced with permission)


Since my earliest memory, I have been told about "our" small piece of the original Eureka Flag that was the symbol of the uprising at Bakery Hill in late November and early December, 1854. In the early 1950s, during a visit to my grandmother, Anne Gertrude Millane, she produced an old envelope and removed from it a deep blue fragment of cloth and told us children that Peter Lalor himself had given it to her father, Francis William Breen Hanlon. That fragment was passed down through the family until purchased, in 2017, by the Trades Hall Council, Victoria.

It has been a mystery as to how and when Peter Lalor might have obtained a piece, or pieces, big enough to share, presumably, with his family and friends. It is my understanding that the flag was more or less confiscated at the stockade in 1854. Peter Lalor and all the surviving miner participants were on the run or locked up. At the time Trooper John King brought the flag to the ground, it was slashed by the police and troopers; indeed, there are genuine fragments known to have been taken as souvenirs on that day.

Previously, I had thought that the flag only got back into the public arena in 1895, by which time both Peter Lalor and my great grandfather were dead. However, the Eurekapedia page on the Eureka Flag states that King offered the flag to the State Library in 1871. “The novelist Marcus Clarke was Librarian, and he sent the flag to Peter Lalor with a covering letter which is in the Ballarat Historical Museum.” So, now I must think that Lalor, seeing the tattered remnants of the flag, could well have decided that another square foot or so cut off it wouldn’t materially add to its distressed state. The flag was originally a bit more than 12 foot by 8 foot; and that's over 10 square yards or 9 square metres in area.

So, Peter Lalor had the opportunity to take a part of the flag as a souvenir. Therefore, he could well have given the fragment to F. W. B. Hanlon, as claimed.

I don't have any proof that Hanlon was related to Lalor. However, newspaper reports at the time of Lalor's death refer to Hanlon as his cousin. There is no doubt the Lalor and Hanlon families were close. They lived in the north Richmond and East Melbourne area for at least a decade from the early 1880s. Peter Lalor's son, Dr Joseph P. Lalor of Church Street Richmond, was Francis Hanlon's attending physician and signed his death certificate. It is therefore reasonable to accept that the fragment had indeed been a gift from Peter Lalor to F. W. B. Hanlon.

When Francis W. B. Hanlon died in 1891, he left a widow, Mary Ann Hanlon (nee Collins) and four living children: Francis John, age 20, Theresa, 18, Ethel (Ellen), 16, and Anne Gertrude, 12, who was my grandmother.

Francis John died in 1938; and that is all I know of him. Theresa entered the Abbotsford Convent in January, 1901 and was a nun there until her death in June 1934. Ethel married an American, William Jowett, in 1909 and she went to the USA with him and lived there. Ann Gertrude married Francis Millane in 1907; among their children was my father, Harold Millane.

Thus, it is also reasonable to assume that, when Mary Hanlon died in 1906, the fragment passed to her daughter, Ann Gertrude Hanlon, soon to become Millane. She was in possession of the fragment when I first saw it in around 1950.

Anne Gertrude was the only survivor amongst her siblings when she died in 1956. At that time, she lived with her daughter, Dorothy Millane, my aunt, also known by her nicknames, 'Dids' and 'Dot'. Dorothy assumed ownership of the Eureka Flag fragment at that time. She, too, on occasion brought it out to show to visiting family members and to recount its history as her mother had done before her.

In the late 1980s, my brother, Adrian Millane, borrowed the fragment from our aunt Dorothy. He still had it in his possession when she died on 7 March, 1994. Dorothy had no children. Adrian retained the fragment from that time.

In 2013 - 2015, the fragment was on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E.). In 2017, Adrian sold the fragment, thus launching another unsettling chapter in the history of the Eureka Stockade Flag fragment.

The Hanlon-Millane Eureka Flag Fragment Goes on Display at M.A.D.E.

Returning from a visit to St. Arnaud in July, 2013, simply out of curiosity, my wife and I visited M.A.D.E. I was most interested to see the large, somewhat restored, Eureka Flag on display. I also saw two fragments – one on loan and one that had been donated, I think. They were housed in small, illuminated display niches in the wall at the entry to the main display chamber.

During this visit, I spoke with Gabriel Maddock, M.A.D.E.'s Curatorial Manager, and told her about the "Hanlon-Millane" fragment. She was very interested and offered to have the piece verified as coming from the original flag; or possibly not. She said that this was an expensive service and would be undertaken on condition that the fragment, if genuine, be placed on loan with M.A.D.E. for two years.

I offered to approach Adrian and try to convince him to agree to this process. I had told her that Adrian was in possession of the fragment and that he regarded it highly as a family memento. Ms Maddock told me that a small, fragment of the Eureka Flag (the Healy/Shaw Fragment) had been valued by Christies Auction house at between $10,000 and $20,000 in 1996; so, our fragment may be worth a lot more than that and the family should take good care of it. When speaking to Adrian, I made him aware of this.

Subsequently, I emailed Ms Maddock and confirmed what I had told her about the "Hanlon-Millane" fragment and provided her with Adrian's contact details. A day or so later, Ms Maddock sent me an email formally expressing M.A.D.E.'s interest in testing the fragment and securing it for display on loan from the family. She also sent a pro-forma loan agreement for Adrian's information and consideration. ...

Ultimately, the fragment was authenticated and placed on loan at M.A.D.E. On December 3, 2017, Adrian attended a ceremony to commemorate the 159th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade and to hand over the Hanlon- Millane fragment. The event was widely reported locally and around the country. The following article is taken from The Courier Mail of December 3, 2013, and, while it contains a couple of minor factual errors, it represents what the family understood to be the case: that is, the loan was appropriate; and that the fragment should end up at M.A.D.E.

Family donates its fragment of original Eureka flag to museum

ON the 159th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, a Queensland family donates its piece of the original flag to the nation. AN original fragment of the Eureka flag has been returned to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Ballarat after its discovery at the Sunshine Coast. Nambour man Adrian Millane attended a presentation Tuesday, where he officially handed over his piece of the flag. "It was a marvellous experience," Mr Millane said of the ceremony. "There is excitement and vindication of more than 150 years where my family has kept this flag. It's a great relief it's now in the right place." Mr Millane has a particularly close connection to the flag - his great grandfather was a cousin of rebellion leader Peter Lalor, who gave him this piece as a souvenir following the Eureka Stockade. The flag, and its history, has since become folklore in Mr Millane's family. "My father used to tell the tale across the dinner table of the underdog fighting against English tyranny, so it was strongly impressed upon us at an early age." The Battle of the Eureka Stockade was fought between miners and colonial forces on December 3, 1854, and resulted in workers winning some of the first democratic rights in the world. The Museum intends to display each fragment of flag separately, with each part telling its own story. "It's the place my aunty or grandmother would have taken it," Mr Millane said. "We ourselves were a little unsure what would have become of the flag." The campaign to find missing pieces of the flag was prompted by the countdown to the rebellion's 160th anniversary in 2014. As far as I know, the fragment remained on display for the agreed two years after which time Adrian withdrew it and had it returned to him.

The Sale of the Hanlon – Millane Eureka Flag Fragment

On 3rd December, 2017, one of my friends contacted me to see if I was aware of an advertisement by Mossgreen auction house for a piece of the Eureka Flag with a Millane being the seller. As I had no knowledge of such a sale, I searched the internet and found the relevant advertisement. It showed the Hanlon-Millane fragment would be auctioned on Monday 11 December 2017 as Lot # 169MG

On 6th December, 2017, I sent an email to M.A.D.E. advising that the fragment was going to auction the following Monday. The next day, Rebecca Macfarling, CEO, replied via email to say that M.A.D.E. had no funds to purchase the fragment.

So, on December 11, 2017, the sale of the Hanlon-Millane fragment went ahead. The following is a screen shot taken of the Mossgreen notification of the successful sale of the fragment. At that time, using the information provided on their web site to calculate the buyer's premium, commission and other fees, I determined that Adrian should receive $25,000.

On December 13, 2017, the Ballarat Courier confirmed the sale and the identity of the purchaser in the following article.

Eureka flag remnant will remain on public view at Trades Hall
A tiny fragment of the flag flown at the Eureka Stockade rebellion in 1854 has sold at auction for over $32,000. Melbourne auctioneers Mossgreen sold the piece of Prussian blue cloth on Monday for $32,240.

The new owners are the Victorian Trades Hall, who ran a crowd-funding campaign to purchase the piece of Australia’s history. The campaign raised over $20,000 toward the purchase.

Victorian Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari says the fragment will be safely kept at Trades Hall for the public to view.
“It will be a proud day for Trades Hall next year when we have it on display,” Hilakari said in a Facebook video posted to the Trades Hall site.
“We’re going to encourage everyone to come and see it. Well done, comrades. Solidarity.”

Former owner Adrian Millane says he’s pleased the piece of flag will remain in public hands.

“I am very happy, moreso with WHO got it,” said Millane.
“I always hoped for a public body (to purchase it).

He says the sale will enable him to pursue the cause of an orphanage in India where he alleges sexual abuse took place.

“This trauma is tied to why I felt needed to sell it, to raise the profile of the severe issues of corruption preventing real child protection - and of course to have funds to support my pursuit of such reforms,” he said.

But the Proceeds Were Lost

As I understand it, the Victorian Trades Hall Council paid for the Hanlon-Millane fragment and took possession of it. As was their practice, Mossgreens delayed payment to the vendor, Adrian, thus allowing other events to overtake the transaction. On December 26, 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald published this headline (and an extract of the related article is included here):

Auction house Mossgreen enters voluntary administration
". . . . On December 21 Mossgreen, which has branches in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland, thanked customers via its Facebook page for their 2017 support and announced its holiday office closure.

The next day, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission announced that administrators had been appointed for Mossgreen Pty Ltd. . . .

That article, and others like it in that week and later, contained assertions by the owner of Mossgreen that the company would restructure and continue normal trading operations and that the vendors would not be out of pocket. However, the Administrator, BDO, having assessed the assets, advised that these totalled $3.2 million but debts were $13.8 million. Mossgreen never traded again.

The Administrator's report, delivered in April 2018, documented numerous improper practices, including the use of 'reserved' funds, owned by vendors, to prop up the failing business. Whilst the specific purpose bank account did hold what was left of the vendors' money, by law, each would have had to sue the Trustee of Mossgreen in bankruptcy in order to get what was rightfully theirs.

By September, 2018, the then liquidators, BDO, had informed the Federal Court that none of the vendor creditors had made a claim. This was because there was a secured creditor, Jadig, and it would be a waste of money – via legal costs – to try and 'get blood from a stone'. By Court Order, the last of the money belonging to the unpaid vendor creditors was then absorbed into the liquidated company's general assets. In short, there was no money left for anyone after the priority categories of creditors had been paid: the high priority creditors were the liquidator (for fees), the Commonwealth (for employees' benefits) and the secured creditor, Jadig (for a secured loan). So, Adrian received nothing from the sale of the Hanlon-Millane fragment of the Eureka Stockade Flag.

It is some comfort that the fragment is owned by an organisation that will respect and preserve it; and that the family can still visit it at the Trades Hall in Melbourne

Also See

Eureka Flag

Francis Hanlon