Goldfields Involvement, 1854
Correspondence to Governor Charles Hotham, 23 October 1854
- Ballarat 23rd Oct 1854
- To His Excellency
- Sir Charles Hotham K.C.B.
- Lieutenant Governer of the Colony of Victoria
- We the Committee for the prosecution of the inverstigation into the death of the late James Scobie, duly appointed at the public meeting held here on the 17th inst do beg to forward to Your Excellency the enclosed petition.
- Your Excellency having anticipated the object of the petition, we, desiring as much as possibly to allay the excitment at present insisting on these diggings have thought it unneccessary and impolitic to have signatures attached to the Petition.
- We beg to tender our sincere thanks to Your Excellency for the promptitude and vigour with which the case has been taken up by Your Excellency's Government, and which is rapidly restoring the confidence of the community in that due administration of the law, whih is necessary to the preservation of society.
- In any investigation which Your Excellency may be pleased to institute into the matter, may be pleased, and especially that of the Coronoer, will appear to Your Excellency in its true light.
- We beg to subscribe ourselves Your Excellency's most devoted and obedient servants.
- James Russell Thompson Chairman
- Peter Lalor Secretary
- Thomas D. Wanliss
- John Weightman Gray
- William Corkhill
- Alexr M. P. Grant
- Archibald Carmichael
Post 1854 Experiences
In the News
- BALLAARAT. (FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.) 18th October, 1854.
- The exciting events of the last few days have been of such nature as to deserve special attention in your columns, embracing, in the short space of two days, one of the most daring and extensive robberies that has yet occurred in these colonies, and the most deliberate and most deter- mined expression of public resentment against in- justice that has yet graced or disgraced the annals of Australia.
- One James Scobie was brutally murdered on the morning of the 7th inst., near Bentley's Eureka Hotel. The evidence adduced at the inquest bore strongly against some of the members of Bentley's establishment, and, in consequence, Bentley and two others were arrested on the Monday following, and admitted to bail of £1000 each. On Thursday, the 12th inst., they were examined before the police magistrate, Mr. Dewes, and the commissioners, Messrs. Rede and Johnston. The evidence against them was pretty strong, and the general expectation was, that they would be committed. However, the decision of the magistrates was, that there was not the shadow of a case against Mr. Bentley, and that he, as well as the others, were honorably discharged. The decision was received with groans and hisses, and it was evident that great dissatisfaction existed in the public mind. Rumors prejudicial to the character of the Bench, and which we forbear to mention, spread abroad, and it was evident that the matter was not to be allowed to rest without further investigation. A public meeting was announced to be held on Tuesday, near the spot where Scobie was murdered. It is necessary to mention that Bentley's hotel had acquired a very bad name throughout the diggings, numerous robberies having occurred in it since its establishment; and complaints were general, that though a favorite resort of thieves and Vandemonians, the establishment seemed to be under the protection of some of the Camp authorities, as no notice was taken of its well-known irregularities. This explanation will, in some measure, account for the spirit evinced at its destruction.
- The business of the meeting was to commence at twelve o'clock, and long before that hour an immense number of people were on the spot. A strong body of foot-police, under Sub-Inspector Ximenes, was posted in the hotel, and the mounted troopers, under Captain Evans, were stationed in an adjacent hollow. When the chair was taken, about 3000 people were present, which increased to 5000 before the termination of the meeting.
- The following is a correct copy of the resolutions moved at the meeting, which throughout was conducted in a temperate, judicious, and creditable manner: —
- 1. Moved by Mr. William Corkhill, seconded by Mr. James R. Thomson —
- That this meeting, not feeling satisfied with the manner in which the proceedings connected with the death of the late James Scobie have been conducted, either by the magistrates or by the coroner, pledges itself to use every lawful means to have the case brought before other and more competent authorities; and to effect this object do forward a petition embodying the facts of the case for the consideration of the Lieutenant Governor.
- Carried unanimously.
- 2. Moved by Mr. Alexander M. P. Grant, seconded by Mr. Archibald Carmichael —
- That this meeting views with mingled feelings of indignation and surprise the address in favor of Mr. Bentley, which appeared in the Ballaarat Times of Saturday last, and begs to express its total dissent from the sentiments therein conveyed.
- Carried without a dissentient voice.
- 3. Moved by Mr. Thomas Kennedy, seconded by Mr. Angus Sutherland —
- That this meeting deems it necessary to collect subscriptions for the purpose of offering a reward for the conviction of the murderer or murderers and defraying all other expenses connected with the prosecution of the case.
- Mr. Kennedy, in moving this resolution, made an eloquent and powerful speech. The motion was also carried without one dissentient voice.
- Number four, moved by Mr. Stephen Cumming, seconded by Mr. Blair —
- That a committee of seven be appointed, to carry out the views of the meeting, as embodied in the foregoing resolutions, and that Peter Lalor, James R. Thomson, John W. Gray, Thomas D. Wanliss, William Corkhill, Alexander M. P. Grant and Archibald Carmichael form said committee, with power to add to their number. Three to form a quorum.
- Carried unanimously.
- It is impossible to exaggerate the unanimity displayed by the meeting: the vast assemblage seemed animated by one desired. After the meeting was dissolved a number proceeded towards Bentley's hotel, and were immediately followed by the Commissioners and some mounted troopers. It is a matter of speculation whether the meeting would not have dispersed peaceably had this course not been taken by the authorities. When the horsemen were seen to proceed towards the hotel, numbers that were then on their way home arrested their steps to see what "was up." The police being very unpopular on account of their late numerous license "raids," came in for the first share of public wrath. They were "joeyed" most perseveringly. The first proceedings against the hotel were of a very simple nature, gravel being "chucked" at the windows; but after a few panes of glass were broken the appetite for destruction seemed to increase, and a continued shower of stones, bottle, and billets of wood, was kept up on the building till every window was broken. About twenty minutes after the commencement of the fray Bentley, without hat or coat, escaped on horseback from the back yard, galloped to the Camp at a great rate, pursued by the execrations of the multitude. About this time an additional body of troopers was ordered up by Captain Evans, who exercised great discretion at this critical period, and several orderlies were despatched to the Camp to hasten the arrival of the Military. Meanwhile the work of destruction went on rapidly, and it became evident that the total destruction of the building was determined on. The mob got inside and began to destroy the furniture. On the arrival of the military a strong party was stationed in the bowling-alley, behind the main building, but the mob were so daring and determined as completely to defy them.
- About half-past two or three o'clock in the afternoon, and when the crowd had increased to about 8000 or 10,000, a man carried an armful of paper and rags to the windward end of the bowling-alley, and placing them under the calico covering, deliberately struck a match and fired the building, in the presence of the Military. The cool and resolute manner in which every-thing was carried on, resembled more the proceedings of the "Porteus mob" than of anything of the kind that has occurred since. When the building was fired, they immediately upset the water-cask, to prevent it from being used in extinguishing the flames. Some having rolled out a cask of porter with the intention of drinking it, others staved it in, and spilled the contents on the ground. A blackfellow being detected stealing a ball belonging to the bowling-alley was severely punished, and the ball thrown into the flames.
- The horses were taken out of the stable, and the sheep and pigs out of the yard. The stable was then fired. Meanwhile, in the main building the furniture was being completely destroyed. Several members of the establishment endeavored to save some of the articles, by throwing them out of the window, and carrying them aside, but they were all afterwards destroyed by the fire. The property of the servants was, however, respected and carried to a place of safety. The instruments of the musicians, including a pianoforte, were saved. The liquor in the bar was run off and wasted, without any attempt to use it. One fellow got hold of Mrs. Bentley's jewel-box, and with an exclamation about the box, pitched it into the flames. When the main building was nearly consumed, a striking sight was presented. The weather-boarding and shingles of the roof, being thin and perishable, disappeared first, leaving the joists and ridge-pole glowing vividly in the sky. To the onlookers at a distance it seemed for a few moments like ribs of fire supporting a fiery keel.
- "Several tents and stores on the opposite side of the road caught fire, and were consumed. A fine new ballroom, running at right angles to the main building of the hotel, also caught fire, and burned slowly, the flames in this case creeping against the wind. While the ruins of the other buildings were smouldering, the mob tore up the fence, and threw it into the flames. A dray and shay-cart were also run into the flames. It being stated that the latter did not belong to Mr. Bentley, it was at some risk rescued; but on further enquiry it was ascertained to be his property, and immediately run into the burning mass and totally consumed.
- About three hours after the commencement of the proceedings, and about two hours after the first application of fire, there remained nothing of the once only too famous Eureka Hotel but the glowing embers and the dismantled chimneys.
- When all the property of the obnoxious Bentley had been destroyed, the cool, determined spirit of vengeance which had hitherto marked the proceedings gave way to the drunken revelry of the rabble. The hot ashes were ransacked for bottles of ale and spirits with as much eagerness as could have been displayed on another Golden Point or Specimen Hill.
- There was only one man taken by the police, and he was rescued on the way to the Camp. Great excitement prevailed in the Camp last night. Several reports came, to the effect that the diggers were coming in great strength to take Mr. Bentley, and there was a force under arms all night.
- The administration of justice, it is apparent, has received a severe blow in this district; and it is entirely to be attributed to the inconsistent, and, to the public, insulting decision of the Bench on Thursday last. With the evidence brought before them, and aware, moreover, of the well-known character of Mr. Bentley's establishment, to decide "that there was not the shadow of a case against him, and that he was honorably discharged," seemed to the public so inconsistent with facts, and so contrary to justice, as to excite a universal feeling of indignation, which found vent in the terrible outburst of yesterday.
- A petition to His Excellency Sir Charles Hotham, requesting him to institute another investigation into the case, is about to be sent round for signature. I enclose a copy.
- The late James Scobie, whose unfortunate death has given rise to all these proceedings, was a native of Scotland, and was much respected throughout these diggings. I understand that he was related, being either first or second cousin to Captain Hall, who was so well known in the Chinese war, and who has lately been distinguishing himself so much by his gallantry in the Baltic.
- To His Excellency Sir Charles Hotham, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Victoria, &c, &c, &c, &c. The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Ballaarat humbly sheweth, —
- That your petitioners feeling dissatisfied with the manner in which justice has been administered in regard to the death of one James Scobie, who was brutally murdered near Bentley's Eureka Hotel on the morning of the 7th inst., feel bound to lay some of the principal features of the case before your Excellency.
- The deceased James Scobie, in company with one Peter Martin, seeing a light in the Eureka Hotel when passing about one o'clock on the above morning, sought for admission in order to have something to drink. In doing so a portion of a window was broken. Not obtaining admittance, they proceeded towards the tent of the deceased. When about eighty yards from the hotel they heard a noise behind them, and turning back to see the cause of it, Martin states they met two or three men and one woman. That one of the men had in his hand a weapon, which he supposed to be a battle-axe. The individual holding this weapon he believed to be Bentley, the landlord of the Eureka Hotel. He also heard the woman say, referring to Scobie, the deceased, "This is the man that broke the window." At this time, Martin was knocked down and rendered insensible. On recovering, he went up to deceased, whom he found unable to speak, and on assistance being brought, he was found to be quite dead.
- It may be necessary to inform your Excellency that the night was perfectly clear and moonlight.
- Between the Eureka Hotel and the spot where Scobie was murdered, and within about twenty- five yards of and almost directly opposite to a back entrance of the hotel, lives a woman and her son named Walshe. The boy is about ten years old, and remarkably intelligent. He deposed that having heard two men pass the tent, he very shortly afterwards heard two or three men and a woman follow, apparently coming from the hotel, or some place near to it. Looking through a hole in the tent, he saw two men, one much stouter than the other; the stouter man he believed to be Bentley. That he heard one of the party lift something, which he susposed to be a spade, from a corner of the tent. Shortly afterwards he heard a voice say, "How dare you break my window?" or to that effect. Then he heard a scuffle, and a blow given. He swears to the best of his knowledge and belief, that the voice was that of Bentley's wife. The parties returning towards the Eureka Hotel dropped the supposed spade. He then saw them proceed towards a back door of the Eureka Hotel. The boy's mother swears distinctly that she heard a voice say, "How dare you break my window?" and to the best of her belief this was the voice of Bentley's wife. In every other particular she corroborates the evidence of her son.
- The evidence of these three witnesses was given with great reserve and caution, and therefore in the opinion of your petitioners is entitled to particular weight and consideration.
- Your petitioners consider that the evident tendency of these impartial depositions is to implicate Bentley, his wife, and some person or persons connected with the Eureka Hotel.
- The only evidence brought forward to exonerate them was that of the men named George Bassar, Everett Gud, and Henry Green.
- George Bassar is a butcher, living near Bentley's hotel. The value of this witness's evidence may be known by the fact of his positively swearing "that no person could leave the hotel without his seeing them." Yet, on cross-examination, he was obliged to confess that persons could go in and out of the back door without his knowledge.
- Everett Gud, the second witness, is the reputed brother-in-law of Bentley, manager of his bar and bowling alley, and lives in the hotel, and of course liable to suspicion, as one concerned in the murder.
- The third witness, Henry Green, has for a considerable time been an inmate of the hotel, and was there on the night of the murder, and of course equally liable to suspicion.
- The coroner's inquest was held on the day of the murder. Your petitioners being dissatisfied with the proceedings at that inquest, a number of them waited upon the authorities the following day, in order to have a further inquiry. On the following morning, Bentley and two other members of his establishment were arrested, admitted to bail, and the case remanded for three days. During this period, the accused parties and their witnesses had every opportunity of communicating with each other. The decision of the Bench of Magistrates was, that "There is not the shadow of a case against Mr. Bentley, and that he was honorably discharged."
- The other accused were also discharged at same time.
- Your petitioners are strongly of opinion, that instead of the magistrates dismissing the case, it should have been sent before a jury. Your petitioners are borne out in this view of the case by the authority of Lord Denman, (Magistrates' Manual, page 21,) who states, "if witnesses for the defence contradict those for the prosecution in material points, then the case would be properly sent to a jury to ascertain the truth of the statements of each party."
- Your petitioners beg to state, that not only the decision, but also the manner in which the case was conducted, both by the magistrates, and the coroner, has strongly tended to destroy the confidence hitherto placed in them by the public.
- Your petitioners humbly trust that your Excellency will direct the necessary measures to be taken, to have a further and more satisfactory investigation of the case, and at the same time, beg to express a hope, that in order to elicit the truth, and further the ends of justice, your Excellency will direct a suitable reward to be offered for the conviction of the murderers.
- Trusting that your Excellency will be pleased to attribute the object of your petitioners to its real motive, namely a love of order and justice, and that your Excellency will graciously grant their request.
- Your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.
In the News
- DEATH OF AN OLD RESIDENT OF BALLARAT, May 20.
- Mr J. Russell Thomson died at his residence, Ballarat West, to night, of liver complaint. He was 64 years old Mr Thomson was always greatly liked and esteemed here, his courteous bearing and his integrity commanding for him the respect of all who knew him. He will be remembered by old residents as a member of the firm of Thomson, Walsh and Moore, sharebrokers. He was in Ballarat before the Eureka Affair, and was in the police court when Bentley was charged with the murder of the digger James Scobie, and acquitted by the magistrate Mr Dewes. On that occasion Mr Thompson narrowly escaped committal for daring to urge that Bentley's was a case which should be sent to a jury; but his expression of opinion was popular. At an indignation meeting close to where Scobie was killed, 'Mr.Thomson, with Messrs T.D. Wanliss, P. Lalor, J.W. Gray, W. Corkhill, A.McP. Grant, and Archd. Carmichael were appointed to collect money to defray the cost of a further prosecution of Bentley. In the early days here Mr Thomson amassed a fortune, and has of late lived retired, He still supported mining, but latterly with little success. He has, no relatives in the colony. 
Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.
- Report of the Board appointed to Enquire into Circumstances Connected with the Late Disturbance at Ballarat, John Ferres, Government Printer, Melbourne, 21 November 1854.
- Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS 6927, transcribed 11 June 2017.
- The Argus, 23 October 1854.
- Hobart Mercury, 29 May 1886.