John Yates

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Samuel Thomas Gill, Marking the Claim, c1852, watercolour and gum arabic on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, gift of Mr. Tony Hamilton and Miss. S.E. Hamilton, 1967.


Goldfields Involvement, 1854

John Yates was in Ballarat at the time of the Eureka Stockade. He counselled moderation with firmness and common sense in the midst of heated passions[1]

Mr. James Ryce, member, of the Local Court, then proposed Mr. John Basson Humffray as a fit and proper person to re present the interests of the diggors in the Legislative Council of the colony of Victoria. He knew Mr. Humffray to be a man of superior abilities and well qualified for the work required of him, but that would be chiefly found in the call for the amendment of the laws relating to the gold-fields, and he felt confident that in the framing of those important amendments, few were better qualified than the gentle man he had the pleasure of proposing. (Hear, hear ) Every one know those laws, as they at present stood, were very imperfect, and what was more necessary than, to have a man as their representative who know how to remedy the evil, as well us to feel assured that in other respects the same individual was a man of integrity, and would serve them faithfully. (Hear, hear.) He did not wish to take up their time by needlessly dwelling upon the well-known merits of Mr. Humffray, whom he had a great pleasure in proposing as their future representative. (Cheers.) Mr. John Yates, also of the Local Court, was proud to be the seconder of Mr. Humffray's nomination, he had known Mr. Humffray for some time as a man of superior ability, although persons did exist who had endeavoured to malign his character, and he (Mr. Yates) now challenged any one who did so to oome forward. (Cries of no one, and of hear, hear.") It was true that the brightness of a glass might be dimmed by the dust that gathered on its surface from apparent disuse, and some evil disposed persons might cast mud upon that surface, thinking to dim its lustre for ever ; but when the time came for resuming its original brightness, in clearing off the mud the dust was taken away with it also— (cheers) ... [2]

Post 1854 Experiences

John Yates was a member of the Ballarat Local Court. Later he was Sheriff of the Ararat and Belfast Circuit District. [3]


Considerable sensation was caused in Hamilton yesterday morning by the report that Mr. Yates, the Sheriff of the Ararat and Belfast Circuit District, had suddenly fallen down and expired. The rumour was disbelieved at first by many, for the reason that Mr. Yates was seen an hour or two previously, alive and apparently in good health, driving in a buggy through the streets. No long time elapsed, however, before the report was authoritatively confirmed. It appears that Mr. Yates visited the house of Mr. H. Scott, at Fetherstonhaugh's Swamp on Thursday evening, where he was overtaken by a fit, and a medical man had to be sent for. Mr Yates recovered from the attack, but expressed a presentiment that he should die on the following day. This prediction was verified, for he was seized at his own house with a second attack, which terminated fatally. The inquest will be held at nine o'clock this morning, and the funeral will take place at three o'clock on Sunday.
Mr. Yates arrived in this colony in the year 1852. Drawn hitherward like so many others by the fame of the gold diggings, it was at the first attempt at deep-sinking on the Ballarat gold-fields, we believe, that his sturdy independence of character, unflinching integrity and energetic honesty in all things great and small, caused his name to rise above the rank of his contemporaries, and obtain for him the well-earned soubriquet of "Honest John." His fellow-miners soon elected him a member of the Mining Board, the duties of which he satisfactorily performed, continuing to gradually increase his personal influence in the community by his general urbanity and warm-heartedness.
At the time when the unhappy rioting at Ballarat arose, the influence of Mr Yates with a few of his intimate friends was powerfully and successfully exerted in the cause of law and order, in counselling moderation with firmness and common sense in the midst of heated passions. The small band, of which Mr. Yates was the chief, proved, we believe, the strongest instrument in the hands of the Government in allaying bloodshed and restoring order.
The Government of the day were not slow in recognising those services, the Commission of the Peace having at once been offered to him. This was however, delined, Mr. Yates private fortune being not such as to enable him to continue an honorary assistant of the Government.
In 1858, however, on Ararat being made a Circuit Town, and a Deputy Sheriff there appointed, the position was offered to, and accepted by Mr. Yates, who continued to hold it until (with its various changes) it became, as now, the Sheriffdom of the Ararat and Belfast Circuit Districts.
It will be well within the memory of most of our readers, the regret so strongly expressed by all classes at Mr. Yates' removal from amongst us under the recent Government reductions, as also the general satisfaction-we might almost say, public ovation-by which he was greeted on his return in November last on re-appointment.
We understand Mr. Yates leaves three sons in this colony, besides a widow in Ireland, to lament his untimely death. His loss will, perhaps, be most fully and deeply deplored by the large class of subortinate officials who were under his immediate control in the in the department of the Ararat and Portland gaols, where the name of John Yates, to get fair play in any scrape, was always held as a tower of strength.
To his immediate subordinates he was the warmest friend, and his death has left a void difficult to fill. Among his contemporaries and personal friends, his death will cause a lasting impression ; he was never known to speak an unkind word of the absent ; ever cheerful, good-hearted, and obliging, ready to befriend in need or sympathise in distress.[4]


(To the Editor of the Star.)
SIR,Honest John "made a statement of his views respecting Sunday work" yesterday's Times, and be felt it his duty to make the statement from questions put to him, as a candidate for the Mining Board, on Monday morning last.
Surely the Sabbath Observance Committee must have been putting questions to him, and if so, they may think his reply rather vague; but I can assure them he can reply very pointedly if he thought it would suit bis purpose, for when some on Sebastopol Hill objected to blasting, &c., last year, his reply—nay, command—was, "Ye must give up these religious scruples." Of course he did not say, "Ye must give up your principles." Oh! no; that would not do for a man who is so emphatically a man of principle.
I am, Sir, AN OLD SEBASTOPOL MINER. Ballarat, 10th February, 1858.[5]

Mr C. E. Jones is down. I am sorry for it, Sorry for his own sake, sorry for the sake of Ballarat, sorry for the sake of the cause of democracy and liberal institutions generally. I do not desire to say one word against Mr Jones. Any coward can kick a man when he is down, and that is a character to which I have no ambition to aspire. I agree with your con temporary in " that Mr Jones has been one of the most energetic Ministers which Victoria ever had." As a personal friend he is warm hearted and generous. Nevertheless, he has been compelled by the force of circumstances to resign his office as a Minister and his seat in Parliament. Ballarat is now minus one representative. She wants one whose politics are thoroughly liberal—there must be no mistake on that point. And she wants one whose integrity of purpose is unquestioned and unquestionable. There never was a time in the history of the colony when men of unimpeachable probity were more required than at present. Whether deserved or not, the black pall of suspicion is hanging over many of our leading public men, and an unhealthy feeling of distrust is rapidly pervading the country in consequence. Ballarat West has one representative in the person of Mr Vale, whose sterling honesty is beyond dispute, but his domineering temper makes him like a porcupine. One can not touch him without being pricked or scratched, in fact, his boorishness is intolerable. Cannot we secure a representative liberal in politics, of unquestionable character, and whose deportment would be at least bearable ? I think we can. "Old Ballarat" will no doubt remember its old friend John Yates, whose sterling worth won for him in times past the sobriquet of "Honest John." I don't mention this title because I approve of making a flourish of trumpets about a man's honesty, but simply by way of indicating the estimation in which he was held. We know that he is a gentleman of large experience on the gold-fields, that he has considerable — far above the average — ability, and that his instincts and sympathies have always been on the liberal side, and that when he was free to act his efforts were always put forth in the cause of progress, and in the advocacy of those principles which were specially in tended to benefit the working-men—the bone and sinew of the colony. He is on Ballarat now, and I think if the right steps were taken he would not re fuse to become a candidate. I asked him about the matter myself, and he laughed at it as if he thought it a good joke. Nevertheless, I thought the rogueish twinkle of his eye and the self-satisfied smile that played over his face, indicated that he was pleased to be remembered, that he would feel it an honor to represent this district, and would not be slow to accept it if it were the wish of the constituency that he should do so. He is just the man we want. Will none of our leading men take steps to secure him? I cannot do much myself personally, but if he consents to stand I can raise.
A Voice from Sebastopol.[6]

See also

Ballarat Local Court

Further Reading


  1. "The Hamilton Spectator", 09 April 1870.
  2. Tasmanian Daily News, 20 November 1855.
  3. "The Hamilton Spectator", 09 April 1870.
  4. "The Hamilton Spectator", 09 April 1870.
  5. Ballarat Star, 16 February 1858.
  6. Ballarat Star, 13 March 1869.

External links

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Caption, Reference.