Goldfields Involvement, 1854
Neill was a Private in the 40th Regiment (Reg. No 2557), who was a participant in the Eureka Stockade battle. Two of his children are buried in the Soldiers' grave at the Ballaarat Old Cemetery. He wrote a letter on 7 February 1870 which gives his version of the battle.
William B. Withers reported the following comments by John Neill"
- As a Military man, and one who took a most prominent part in all the military movements of the day. I beg leave to offer a remmark upon the statement made by the Government office in the Camp. ... The order to fall-in and be silent was given, and when Captain Thomas had a spoken a few words we were seen in the rebel sentry, who fired, not at our party, but to warn his party in the Stockade. ... Captain Thomas turned his head in the direction of the shot and said "We are seen. Forward, and steady men! Don't fire; let the insurgents fire first. You wait for the sound of the bugle." When within a short distance of the Stockade, the insurgents fired. ... The diggers fought well and fierce, not a word spoken on either side until it was all over. ... It was rumoured that at that time, the police were cruel to the wounded and prisoners. No such thing. The police did nothing but their duty, and they did it well for men not accustomed to scenes of blood or violence. To my knowledge there was only one wounded man despatched, he kept swing his pike around his head as he sat on the ground. His two legs were broken, and he had a musket ball in his body. He could not live and it was best to dispatch him. ... I heard this statement from a sergeant of Police, and I know it to be correct.
- THE MILITARY POINT OF VIEW
- A long letter, dated February 7, 1870, and signed "John Neill, late of the 40th Regiment," describing the attack on the Stockade, and some of the immediately subsequent events gives the point of view of a soldier who took part in them.
- "As a military man," he writes, "and one who took a most prominent part in all the military movements of that day, I beg leave to offer a remark upon the statement made by the Government officer of the camp. The small force consisted of detachments of the 12th and 40th Regiments, and a few troopers and foot police, the whole under the command of Captains Thomas and Wise, and a lieutenant of the 12th — I forget his name. The order to fall in and be silent was given, and when Captain Thomas had spoken a few words we were put in motion, led by Captain Wise. The party had not advanced three hundred yards before we were seen by the rebel sentry, who fired, not at our party, but to warn his party in the Stockade. He was on Black Hill. Captain Thomas turned his head in the direction of the shot and said:—
- "We are seen. Forward, and steady, men! Don't fire; let the insurgents fire first. You wait for the sound of the bugle.'
- "When within a short distance of the Stockade the insurgents fired. Captain Wise fell, mortally wounded. The same volley wounded the lieutenant of the. 12th. already spoken of, and three of his men; two killed, one wounded of the 40th—Pri vates Michael Rooney, Joseph Wall, killed; William Juniper, badly wounded The camp officer says the police were the first to enter the Stockade. He is wrong. There was not one policeman killed or wounded during the whole affair. When Captain Wise fell the men cheered, and were over in the Stockade in a second, and then bayonet and pike went to work. The diggers fought well and fierce, not a word spoke on either side until all was over. The blacksmith who made the pikes was killed by Lieut. Richards, 40th Regiment. Honor to his name; he fought well and died gloriously. It was rumored that at that time the police were cruel to the wounded and prisoners. No such thing. The police did nothing but their duty, and they did it well for men who were not accustomed to scenes of blood or violence- To my knowledge there was only one wounded man despatched, and he kept swinging his pike about his head as he sat on the ground. His two legs were broken, and he had a musket ball in his bcdy. He could not live, and it was best to despatch him. His name was O'Neill, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland. I heard this statement from a sergeant of police, and I knew it was correct."
Post 1854 Experiences
John Neill, was formerly of the Grenadier Company of the 40th Foot Somerset Regiment. He was living at Devil's Gully on 28 February 1872 when he wrote to the newspapers about the state of the soldiers' graves in the cemetery..
- THE SOLDIERS' GRAVES.
- TO THE EDITOR OF THE COURIER
- Sir, — Be good enough to insert these few lines for me. I served in the 40th Regiment for a period of twenty-three years, during which I went through lndia and Scinde. In the year 1843 I was made sergeant by the late Duke of Wellington, for an act of gallantry when on duty. I was also present when the row took place between the diggers and the Government at the Eureka, and was present when the officers and soldiers of the 12th and 40th Regiment were shot, on the morning of the 3rd December, 1854. I take a deep interest in these men, as I drilled them and consequently was personally acquainted with them. In the year 1864, I wrote to Major-General Sir Trevor Chute, describing to him the filthy state the graves were in; end that I would look after the place if he empowered me to do so. In answer to that application, I have received the following, by command of the Major-General:—
- Brigade Office, Melbourne, 17th March, 1872 "John Neill, late 40th Regiment, is informed —with respect to his letter of the 29th ultimo, addressed to the Major-General — that it has been forwarded to the trustees of the Ballarat Cemetery, with a letter requesting them, if possible, to comply with the desire thereto contained by command, Wm Haywood, Major of Brigade." Under tbese circumstances, I hope the mayor and trustees of the Old Cemetery will refrain from interfering with that small plot of ground allowed by the Government to the remains of the officers and soldiers wbo fell on tbe 3rd December, 1854, whilst gallantly doing their duty. — I remain, Sir, your most obliged servant,
- John Neill, late 40tb Regiment.
Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
- Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
- Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
- THe World's News, 06 August 1930.
- Ballarat Courier, 29 February 1872.