John Lishman Potter dies in Wellington, New Zealand on 26 October 1931.
Goldfields Involvement, 1854
- EUREKA STOCKADE.
- ' OLDEST DIGGER ' AND HIS REMINISCENCES.
- In these times of rushing modernity it is interesting to retail the early days of the pioneers, the gold-diggers, and those hardy people who helped in a great measure to develop virgin coun try into wealthy and flourishing towns. To-morrow (writes the 'Timaru' (N.Z.) Herald of 2nd. ult.) is the 68th anniversary of the historical Eureka Stockade of Ballarat, and yesterday :a 'Herald' reporter called on Mr. John L. Potter, *'the oldest gold digger' and asked him to tell the story of the historical event that brought the great inform in the conditions cf the Ballarat gold-diggers. Mr. Potter gave a dramatic account of the battle royal which, tooks place in 1854 between the diggers and British troopers. 'Man,' he said, 'in those days the gold-digger was treated as if he were a criminal." Then Mr. Potter became enthusiastic, and the whole story, ever green in his memory — which, by the way, is remarkable — came out dramatically. He showed the reporter docu ments, pictures and parchments, direct ly connected with the famous occasion even down to his own 'miner's right' which, is still in a good state of pre servation. 'Look you,' said the old miner, ' 'persecution to-day has little meaning compared with what it stood for in Ballarat in 1854. I have been through the 'whole thing, and I speak from ac-tual experience. ' ' The 'Claim' Produced. He proudly produced his 'claim.' 'There,' he said, 'is the thing which, caused the whole trouble. A license to dig for gold cost a man 30/-, and woe betide the digger who could not produce his paper when de manded to do so by the troopers. Later the licence rose in price to £3. We usually wore high knee-boots, moleskin trousers, and a rough shirt. A miner would keep his licence in a pocket, and, very often, it would be lost or become utterly unrecognisable through being drenched with rain. 'When the troopers came along and a licence was not forthcoming, the miner was either fined £5 or chained to a tree for 12 hours as punishment. 'Gradually resentment grew among the men, and the warning word of 'Joe' (signifying that soldiers were approaching) became a tocsin of alarm. 'Mark you,' said Mr. Potter, 'we were determined to combat official ty ranny, and one night decided in a body to burn our licences and swear never to take out another one. Our company, being composed of all nationalities, we could not fly the Union Jack, so we ran up a flag of our own — the Southern Cross. 'We built a stockade of slabs and stakes and determined to resist the troopers for all we were worth.' The narrator lost himself completely as he visualised the whole scene over again; he seemed to step back into the past and actually go through the great fight in 1854, 'The conflict took place on the morn ing of 3rd December,' continued the speaker. 'The soldiers with fixed bayonets and a pompous show of arms, attempted to over-awe us.' 'Man!' said Mr. Potter, 'such a fight then be gan. Our commander-in-chief, Peter Lalor, mounted on a stump and urged us on. He was shot and fell as he was giving his orders. But we were poorly armed, and could not hope to successfully combat a well-armed and disciplined force. 'Gradually the enemy captured the first stockade, and it was but an easy step to take possession of the inner enclosure. In the conflict, Captain Wise (of the 40th Begiment), five sold iers and 30 diggers were killed, and a large number were wounded; 125 miners were made prisoners. The £200 Reward. 'And then, on top of all this,' said Mr. Potter expressively, 'a reward of £200 was offered for Lalor and one of £500 for Verne (the supposed leader of the uprising) but they were never taken. " In the following March 13 men were tried at the Melbourne Law Courts; but out of 180 jurymen empanelled not one could be found to convict the men, and the rewards for the leaders were with drawn." Then, with a smile of satisfaction, the old digger said: 'Our cause was won. The gold-licence, in its objectionable form, was done away with and Parlia mentary representation was secured. Lalor shortly afterwards became speaker in the Legislative Assembly of 'Vic-toria! In the robes of that high office his memory is perpetuated in a statue, mounted on a granite pedestal, has re liefs illustrating the stirring incidents which took place, and also the names of the 'outlaws' who died resisting tyrannical officialdom.' Mr. Potter is now 88 years of age, and he proudly said: 'I'm pretty sure that few people to-day, if any, can recall the Eureka Stockade and all that it stood for. I would dearly like to meet or hear from anyone connected with that great event.
Post 1854 Experiences
- EUREKA STOCKADE VETERAN
- It was recently stated that the last survivor of the Eureka Stockade battle had died in Brisbane. This is not correct. In Timaru (N.Z.) is living a white-haired old gentleman, John L. Potter by name, who claims to be the last survivor. Though nearly 100 years old, he has never worn glasses, has not lost a tooth, has never had a day’s illness, is still a busy builder and contractor, and never had a day’s illness, is still a busy builder and contractor, and never feels tired. He neither drinks nor smokes. His memory is still first rate, and he has a clear recollection of all the events that led up to the battle, in which he took part.
- The revolt against official tyranny at Ballarat in 1854, as Mr Potter claims, did much to break down the military and official spirit that threatened the foundations of the democracy in this land. When gold was first discovered the Crown only allowed men to dig for it under the most stringent rules and regulations. Every man had to pay (2/6?) a week for his “Miner’s Right,” and then only had a claim eight feet square.
- “As the diggers had no voice in the government of the country, the inevitable happened,” replied Mr Potter. One hundred thousand men gathered from all parts of the world were going to bludgeoned into tame submission by a few tyrannical officials. A leader was found in Peter Lalor, and under him the diggers were drilled and instructed in modes of attack and defence. But the authorities were alert, and before the miners could benefit much by training the crisis was precipitated. For the purpose of self-defence they hurriedly gathered logs, slabs, upturned carts, and anything they could lay hands on, and built a barricade o the Eureka lead. Here they burned the licences, and every man took a solemn oath never to buy another. All sorts of weapons had been commandeered, for which queer old receipts had been given.
- “The engagement begun by sniping in the dark, and bush fights. The first victim was a little drummer boy - an unfortunate incident, which aroused the spirit of revenge in the troops.
- “Information obtained by spies reached the troops that on the coming Saturday evening, December 2, 1854, most of the men would be at home in their tents, having about 200 in the stockade. Before daylight on December 3, the attack was made the military and police marching on the entrenched camp. In an hour it was all over, and at 4.30 a.m. Australia had had her first baptism of blood. Commander-in-Chief Peter Lalor leaped on to a stump to direct and cheer his men, and immediately received a shot in the arm. He fell, and his comrades covered him with slabs. The soldiers searched for him high and low, but he was safely hidden. :The reward of £200 for his arrest could not tempt one of those loyal-hearted fellows. Lalor lived to enter the Victorian Parliament, and became Speaker. His statue and memory are two of the most cherished possessions of Ballarat.
- “Captain Wise, five soldiers, and 30 diggers were killed, a great number were wounded, and 125 diggers were taken prisoners. :Three months later thirteen of the diggers were put on trial for treason in Melbourne, but though 180 jurymen were empanelled, not one could be found to convict the men. The rewards of £200 for Lalor and £500 for Verne(sic) another leader, were withdrawn. Though the diggers were defeated in battle, their cause was won. The gold licence was modified. Parliamentary representation was granted, and Ballarat entered upon a new era of progress.
Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
- Geraldton Guardian, 25 January 1923.
- Melbourne Herald, 9 February 1924.