The Eureka Stockade by One of the Insurgents
THE EUREKA STOCKADE. (BY ONE OF THE INSURGENTS) No, II.
About the beginning of 1854, a alight con cession was made in consequence of the con tinual protests of the diggers. The li cense fee was reduced, to £1 per month or £2 for three months. But the obnoxiou mode of collecting it was still presisted in the police, both mounted and foot, still collected the fee with sword and carbine and musketnaod fixed bayonet. They visited the tents and roused the night watches, as they were then called, but are now known as "shifts,”- out of bed to make sure that no man was on (he goldfields without the necessary license. The diggers were still dissatisfied. Public meetings, were held. Reynolds with his rough eloquence roused the slumbering echoes among the surrounding hills. The eloquent Holyoake denounced the unsatisfactory condition of affairs. The "new rehum," John Basson Humffray, raised his voice in protest, and with many mysterious shakes of the head hinted that something iould surely happen if things were not altered. The brothers Black in eloquent language de nounced the authorities for their atrocious tyranny, and a number of others I cannot name spoke in defence of the claims of the diggers. During the winter there was a sort of armed armistice between the parties. The police did not care to hunt diggers during the boisterous weather, and the agitation among the diggers smouldered. In the spring an event oc curred which raised the diggers to the wildest pitch of excitement. A' man named Scobie was found murdered close to tbs Eureka hotel. Bentley, the proprietor, was arrested and examined before the Police Court. Very strong incriminating evidence was given against him, but the magistrate dismissed him “without a stain on his character." Some of the spectators protested against the decision. The magistrate threatened to commit them for con tempt. The case was brought udder the notice of the Attorneys General—the present Chief. Justice—by some of the spectators. It was proved subsequently that the magistrate was a partner of Bentley. The failure of justice drove the diggers into the wildest state of ex citement. A meeting was called, and a plat form erected about half a mile, from Eureka hotel. An immense concourse of people gathered rouun the platform. When I got up to the meeting Kennedy, a fiery, red-headed Celt, was making the welkin ring with Doric numbers, in his vehement denun ciation of the authorities. A number of elo quent speeches were delivered by good speakers. Strong resolutions were passed denouncing the local authorities, and demanding the im-mediate arrest of Bentley. He was subse quently re-arrested, committed for trial, found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. The meeting was be ginning to disperse quietly, but the authori ties, according to their usual infatuating penchant for physical force, had shortly before placed a email detachment of troops around the Eureka hotel, to protect it, A few individuals in the crowd noticed the soldiers, and said,“Let us go and see what’s up,” The crowd slowly moved towards the hotel and began jesting the police and soldiers. Some, one called out, “Let us hang him.” A rush was made into the house to bring Bentley out. He escaped out at the backdoor in his shirt sleeves, mounted a horse, and galloped off to the camp our protection. One of the crowd near where I was standing threw a pebble at one of the windows and in less than three minutes every window in the house was demolished and the sashes smashed to pieces. A Commissioner mounted into one of the sashless windows, and began to read the Riot Act. A young man alongside snatched it out of his hand, threw it to the crowd, and it was in a thousand fragments before the astonished Commissioner could look round. The crowd now took possession of the house, smashed tbe bottles in the her, threw clothing, bedding, &c, out of the windows, which were soon torn to shredsby the enraged multitude below. An order was now given to fire the place, and was quickly obeyed. I saw men carry armfuls of shavings from a carpenter’s shop close by, place them against tbe building, and deliberately fire them without the least con cealment. The main building, and those at tached to it were soon reduced to ashes, and the crowd quietly diapersed,and went to their homes. The outraged dignity of the local authorities could not brook this insult. Some victim must be found to offer up as a sacrifice, to appease the outraged majesty of tbe law. Fletcher, a printer, and another man whose name I forget, were arrested, committed, tried convicted, and sentenced to four month's im prisonment. They were probably spectators of the burning, but they had no more to do with the firing of the place than Julius Ceasar had. I will now relate an incident that occurred to show the eccentric manner in which justice was administered in the old days. A store keeper named Weldridge, resident at Dalton's Flat, “furnished" (that is, supplied slabs, rops, and windlass) a shaft for a party who had taken up a claim near his place of business, for the usual sleeping share. The shaft was sunk, and the ground worked out, but it was found they had encroached on neighbouring claim. Weldridge was summoned for the offence. He never put a pick in the ground; he never was down the shaft. He had no control whatever over the party; he had nothing to do with the party, or working of the claim, ex cepting his right to a sleeping share of the profits for goods supplied. Notwithstanding he was sentenced to four months' imprison ment I was present as a witness for the de fence, and heard all the evidence and sen tence. It was tbe same magistrate that passed sentence who, a few weeks after, discharged Bentley without a stain on his character. Weldridge worked out his sentence doing odd jobs about the camp. I saw the poor old man afterwards serving out junks of bread and “skilly” to tbe State prisoners. I felt more sorrow, for him than I did for myself, although at the time under arrest on a charge of high treason. The conviction of two innocent men for the burning of Bentley’s hotel added fuel to the flames. Meetings were held pretesting against tbs sentence, and lresolutions were passed calling on the Govern ment to release the men. But the Government turned a deaf ear to their requests. The his torical Bakery Hill now became the trysitng ground. A monster meeting was held, a reform league established, and dele gates were appointed to proceed to Melbourne to interview the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, and “ demand” the release of the prisoners. The meeting was adjourned until the return of tbe delegates. New faces began now to come to the front. Good, jolly old Tim Hayes was understood to be a permanently appointed chairman of the meeting, Lalor, Capt. Ross, Fred. Vern, and Raffello were in the front ranks. The last-named, a Roman exile of '49, addressed the diggers in broken English, and his own countrymen in the liquid language of Italy. During my life I shall never forget the day the delegates re turned from Melbourne. An immense con course of people met them at the coach. At soon at they jumped off the coach they were rushed by frantic men endeavouring to shake hands with them. The delegates now made their way to the platform on Bakery Hill as fast as tbe crowd would permit them. Tim Hayes already occupied the chair. Rumours were whispered around that the mission was un successful. The delegates mounted the plat form, and seated themselves in silence, excepting the impetuous and fiery Kennedy. He surveyed the vast sea of faces for a few seconds in silence, with a grim smile on his rugged countenance. The nerves of the crowd were strung o the highest tension. The crowd was as silentas death. Every eye was directed, towards Kennedy who was about to address the meeting. Suddenly his voice in clear tones rang out over the silent multitude, “Brother diggers, moral persuasion. is all humbug. N thing will con vince.but a lick in the ‘lug.’ He reported the failure of the delegates to secure the object of their mission, and in the wildest language conceivable denounced every Government official from the Governor down and wound up as follows:- " Brother diggers, follow me and I lead you to death or glory.” The howl of execration that went up from that meeting was something to remember. The other delegates reported the result of the mission in more temperate language. The wildest proposals were now made, a favourite idea with some was to capture the camp immediately. However, there was not much done, or determined on,-excepting an immense enrolment of members of the Reform League that day. The meeting was adjourned to another day. About this time the authurities sent military reinforcements to Ballarat. A detachment of troops coming along the Mel bourne, road one evening were attacked by the diggers,and come of the soldiers were seriously injured by stone. They were followed to the bridge, and hooted and pelted with stones all the way. The most intense excitement now prevailed. The adjourned meeting was held, and all the prominent leaders addressed it. A resolution was moved, seconded, and carried with enthusiastic acclamation to burn all lisenses. A space was cleared near the platform and some thousands of lisences were publically burnt. The popular leaders advised the people to disperse quietly, with patience for further developements. They had not long to wait. The local authorities accepted the challenge implied in the burning of the licenses, and next day sent ot a large body of police, foot and horse, armed to the teeth. They began the digger hunt on the flat, near where the Keith Grant hotel now stands. It was not long before those who burnt their licenses were running in all direc-tions. One man was ordered to stand by a policeman. Be took no notice of the order, but kept on running, The policeman deliberately took aim, fired, and the man fell to the ground and lay there wounded. This was the first blood shed in the struggle for freedom. This was the baptism of blood received by the liberty how enjoyed by the people of Victoria. The news spread like lightning all over the diggings, men hurriedly left their work and wended their way towards Bakery Hill, sternly asking each other, " What’s to be done?" They could hardly realise the grim fact that war had begun. The police think ing that enough had been done for one day, hastily returned to the camp,and were with the troops soon busily engaged throwing up. earthworks and entrenching the soldiers barracks with trusses of hay and bags of sand. The diggers were not idle either. Fred Vern, at the head of aebend, with drawn swords, marched through the - streets . and diggings, calling the people to arms and naming Bakery Hill as the trysting ground the marrow morning. Vern that night bivouacked with 100 armed men in a church on Specimen Hill. Sentinels were posted to guard against surprise. The men slept very little that night;no doubt their breasts were filled with gloomy thoughts of the morrow. Many, no doubt, were thinking of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and sweet hearts far away on the other side of the globe, living in peace and safety, while they were resting on their arms their first night in re bellion against their Queen and country. Shortly after the dawn of day the men breakfasted on bread and water, and a move was soon made for Bakery Hill. When Vern's men arrived there, a number at men under arms were around the platform, and the Southern Cross was floating in the morning breeze. Crowds of men were harrying to the trysting place, some with arms others without them. The popular leaders soon put in an appearance. John Basson Humffray mounted a stump and addressedsthe people. He told them he could not follow them if they adopted physical force, and if they persisted in doing so be must retire from the movement Humffray was hooted, dragged down, and jostled, but there was not much harm, done to him and he was permitted to retire quietly.
- Ballarat Star, 10 June 1884.