Recollections of the Ballarat Insurrection

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The Troopers, Their Sabres, and How They Used Them.
It might be of interest to some of the readers of your widespread journal to know more fully the experience of my participation in the events of the stirring Eureka Stockade days, which had their culmination in the tragic happening of Sunday break of day, the 3rd of December, 1854.
Though many compilations on those occurrences have been issued during later years, they have all had the disadvantage of being written by those who having NO PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE of the facts, had to make their literary work as viewed through the lens of the dim vista of half a century or more of time.
Most of these accounts have been written on the authority of information given by those who had been on the Ballarat diggings at the time, or were compiled from previous publications. Of those the most reliable are, first, that of Mr. W. B. Withers, chief reporter of the "Ballarat Star," who, during the period of friction between the Government and the diggers, from September 1, 1851, till the fatal 3rd December, 1854, was continually over all the diggings, securing each day and being fully informed on every incident of importance for his daily paper.
Next comes "Carboni Raffaello," Italian patriot, and a man of great intelligence, and a guiding spirit when the revolutionary stage developed. His book, containing a full account of the incidents lending up to the final catastrophe, is still recognised by those best able to judge, as a classic in the records of Eureka, and the causes underlying it.
Personally, I believe those two histories of the Australian insurrection are a faithful and sufficient account. The tribute of Withers to the subject is contained in a section of his "History of Ballarat." Notwithstanding the above opinion, I believe there is still room to say something by way of clearing away some of the misconceptions at present existing as to the nature of the movement, the causes that made it inevitable, and the character of the men who faced death, and in many cases died, that their children might be free.
Gold License, 1852 University of Ballarat Historical Collection.
The early gold discoveries in Victoria in the early spring of 1851 brought a tidal wave of population pouring over the two goldfields opened up, then known as Forest Creek and Ballarat, Victoria had the preceding year been granted separation from the northern colony, N.S.W.; but, not yet having the grant of the now constitution had no responsible government, and was still under tho old Legislative Council, a nominee body appoint ed by the authorities at Sydney, prior to separation. This Council was composed entirely of the pastoral class, and was representative of property interests only. A full understanding of this fact is essential to a grip of the whole meaning of the insurrection.
The first proclamation of the gold digging license was issued on December 1, 1851, and was fixed at 30s. per month, and was received with indignation by the digging population; and the ANSWER TO THEIR REMONSTRANCE as to the injustice and amount of the tax was a further proclamation on December 1 that the tax would be three pounds a month from that date. This was met by such a storm of protest from all parts of the fields — now extended by new discoveries and a rapidly increasing population that the Council and Governor Latrobe gave way, and for a time the license remained at the original amount till the increasing cost of ad ministration, ever rising with a greater in flux of population, impelled the Government to again raise the obnoxious tax to two pounds a month. Be it remembered the digging community was the only section taxed, and supplied the whole of the revenue for the squatters were making fortunes by supplying meat at enormous prices, and a large commercial class had sprung into existence in Melbourne, and there also, like the bucolic class, making great fortunes as importers and merchants, the young colony depending solely on oversea supplies.
Gold License, 01 May 1854, University of Ballarat Historical Collection.
Further, the collection of the license fee from its first imposition was of itself enough to raise a revolution. It was collected by an armed force of foot police, supplemented by CAPTAIN DANA'S BLACK POLICE, a troop of mounted aboriginals. Originally organised to track and run to earth bushrangers and station marauders of their own race, they were armed, and the Americans and the white Australians were shocked and revolted at being bailed up to show their license by armed savages invested with authority.
The digger hunts, as the police termed them, had by this time been fairly instituted, and were of daily occurrence. The method was: A strong and armed force of police would set out from the Camp Hill, and would sally over the area of the diggings, demanding of every man to produce his license. A failure or a refusal to do so meant immediate arrest with unnecessary violence. One handcuff was attached to the victim's right wrist, the other to the ring bolt in the trooper's saddle, and smart move was made to the police camp. If the prisoner objected to entertain his brutal captor with a trotting match with his horse, the reply to any remonstrance was to put the steed into a can tor; and it was make the pace or go down. Should the maltreated one resent this treatment and the jeers and foul imprecations and scurrilous epithets by replying in kind, OUT WOULD COME THE SABRE, and the prisoner would be thrashed with the flat of the weapon, and no matter if at timed it came down edge-wise. This old scribe has a goodly scalp decoration of that order. Big men of choleric temper, who would, with their free arm, strike back at their tyrant, captor with power of punch, would arrive at the camp to mutilated as to require surgical aid. One digger, Arnold, was so near done to death that it was for a time doubtful as to his Survival.
To be accused as a sanguinary dog of a digger, a son of anything but a woman and man, and peremptorily told to fork out your license, and be crimson quick about it, was about the standard of police official courtesy of those days.
Let it be fully remembered that the work of the digger is of a muddy and wet nature, and, after a licence form on a piece of flimsy blue paper had been produced, on demand, eight or ten times a day, with wet and dirty bands, it would, by the middle of the mouth, be the worse for wear; and at that stage of its currency it would be EXAMINED BY SOME BRAGGART and rejected as out of date, torn up, and the possessor summarily Marched off to prison, known as "The Logs," so called from its blockhouse structure. Usually "The logs" lock-up was crammed to Calcutta blackhole congestion by noon of a busy digger-hunting day, and the surplus of the catch would be locked with the handcuffs on each side of a line of chain stretched from tree to tree on Camp Hill. This exposure on a Ballarat winter night—perhaps a keen frost —was an experience to me that the greatest duration of life will never efface, and during all this brutality—on every goldfield as well as Ballarat—the great majority of the outraged and maltreated urged "moderation," and their slogan was, "whatever is done, don't let us take the law into our own hands; let us adopt constitutional means.
And many of these most prominent disciples of turn-the-other-cheek, 40 and 50 years after, got INTO THE LIMELIGHT as Eureka Stockaders, and figured as such at anniversary celebrations; and at the Jubilee Demonstration of 1904—in which this writer had a prominent position as a well known survivor of the historic Sunday morning, when the pioneers of freedom, from the flume of their stockade volleys, lit the torch of Liberty, that made a light and leading for their posterity for the succeeding half century.
The character and the general estimate of the men who stood in the vanguard of the movement, and the storming of the stockade and its defence, with an account of the events that precipitated the final act in the tragedy of the Eureka Stockade, must be, in consideration of your space, held over till your next issue.[1]


  1. Melbourne Truth, 20 October 1917.