Ballarat Reform League

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Charles A. Doudiet, Swearing allegiance to the 'Southern Cross’, 1854, watercolour, pen and ink on paper.
Courtesy Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased by the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery with the assistance of many donors, 1996.

Formation

On Saturday, 11 November 1854 an assembly of more than 10,000 miners met at Bakery Hill the Ballarat Reform League was formed, with J.B. Humffray being elected the first Chairman. Kennedy and Henry Holyoake were also elected leaders of the Ballarat Reform League. [1]

The league was born as a result of ordinary people taking maters into their own hands and directly making decisions about what was important to them. The did this through direct democratic means, adopting direct democratic means, adopting principles and objectives that recognised the people are the only legitimate source of political power. [2]

The Ballaarat Reform League was a movement that grew out of the frustration that the diggers felt with their treatment on the goldfields. [3] Within a month of the official discovery of gold in Victoria in August 1851, the new Victorian government had imposed a large licence fee for the right to dig for gold. The fee was unpopular but the even greater irritant was the heavy handed, and at times corrupt, administration of the goldfields by the local officials. Eventually collecting licence fees became armed hunts.[4]

Active for a brief time around October and November 1854.[5] The committee was known to meet at The Star Hotel in Main Road, Ballarat, and was though to have initially formed to organise the defence of prisoners taken for the burning of Bentley's Eureka Hotel (17th October 1854). The committee went on to discuss and formulate a Charter outlining such goals as manhood suffrage and full and fair representation.[6]

Of the Ballarat Reform League Henry Seekamp wrote in 1854:

The die is cast and fate has stamped upon the movement its indelible signature. No power on earth can now restrain the united might and headlong stride for freedom of the people of this country and we are lost in amazement while contemplating the dazzling Panorama of the Australian future. We salute the league and tender our hopes and prayers for its prosperity. The league has undertaken a mighty task fit only for a great people – that of changing the dynasty of the Country. The League does not exactly propose nor adopt such a scheme but we know what it means the principles it would inculcate and that eventually it will resolve itself into an Australian Congress. It is not for us to say how much we have been instrumental in rousing up the people to a sense of their own wrongs. We leave that to the public and the world.

Ballarat Reform League Objectives

In forming its goals, the Ballarat Reform League's objectives were very closely aligned to those of British Chartism movement's objectives.

1. A full and fair representation
2. Manhood suffrage
3. No property qualification of Members for the Legislative Council.
4. Payment of Members
5. Short duration of Parliament.

The feelings of the diggers is expressed in this excerpt from the Ballarat Times around two days before the Bakery Hill Monster Meeting:

It is not fines, imprisonments, taxation and bayonets that is required to keep a people tranquil and content. It is attention to their wants and their just rights alone that will make the miners content.[7]

Meetings Leading to the Establishment of the Ballarat Reform League

17 October 1854, site of the Eureka Hotel

A mass meeting of around 10,000 people was held near the site of the Eureka Hotel to urge a more thorough investigation into James Scobie's murder. The organising committee included Peter Lalor as secretary. This was Lalor's first leading role in the goldfield agitation at Ballarat. The crowd grew aggressive and the Eureka Hotel was looted and burnt to the ground.[8]


22 November 1854, Bakery Hill

By 2.00pm on 22 November 10-15,000 people met on Bakery Hill. They supported motions calling for funds to defend Andrew McIntyre, and Thomas Fletcher, claiming the burning of the Eureka Hotel was the result of inept Camp Officials.[9]

The men accused of destroying the Eureka Hotel, Henry Westerby, Thomas Fletcher and Andrew McIntyre, were convicted and sentenced to gaol on 20 November 1854. J.B. Humffray, Black and Kennedy, representing the Ballarat Reform League demanded the release of these prisoners on 27 November 1854. It was a fatal mistake, as the use of the word “demand” strengthened Governor Hotham’s resolve for control.[10]

Ballarat Reform League Meetings

11 November 1854, Bakery Hill

On Saturday 11 November 1854 an assembly of more than 10,000 miners met at Bakery Hill and the Ballarat Reform League was formed. [11]


Yesterday we had our monster meeting on Bakery Hill. The proceedings began soon after three o'clock. The usual accompaniments of flags and music were not wanting to add to the effect of the affair. The chair was occupied by Mr Hayes, and Messrs Holyoake, A. Black, Humffray, G. Black, Kennedy, Krew, Burke, Reynolds, and Spong, submitted and supported the following resolutions, all of which were carried unanimously and enthusiastically.
1. That this meeting demands the immediate dismissal of Serjeant-Major Milne, because he is a dangerous and disreputable scoundrel, and one who is a disgrace to any government that employs him, and further, that the authorities who continue to employ such a knave are unworthy of either the confidence or respect of the inhabitants of Ballarat, and that a committee be appointed to make known the demand of this meeting.
2. That this meeting condemns the insolent language used by the Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor-General, the Chief Commissioner for the Gold Fields, and the Chairman of Committees, in their unwarrantable assertions respecting the veracity of the diggers, and the respectability of the representatives of the public press on the gold-fields, and their sneering contempt at an appeal for an investigation into the mal-practices of the corrupt Camp at Ballarat.
3. That this meeting, having heard read the draft prospectus of "The Ballarat Reform League," approves and adopts the same, and pledges itself to support the committee, in carrying out its principles and attaining its objects — which are the obtaining the full political rights of the people; and
4. That this meeting expresses its utter want of confidence in the political honesty of the government officials in the Legislative Council, and pledges itself to use every constitutional means to have them removed from the offices they disgrace. That this meeting also expresses its disapprobation of the mode in which the board of Enquiry was appointed — that it ought to have been composed of independent gentlemen, and not of paid government officials. The prospectus alluded to in resolution 3, is this :— Principles and objects of the Ballarat Reform League — That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey. That taxation without representation is tyranny." That being, as the people have hitherto been, unrepresented in the Legislative Council of the colony of Victoria, they have been tyrannised over, and it becomes their duty as well as their interest to resist, and if necessary, to remove the irresponsible government which so tyrannises over them. That this colony has hitherto been governed by paid officials upon the false assumption that law is greater than justice, be- cause, forsooth, it was made by them or their friends, and admirably suits their selfish ends and narrow-minded views. That it is the object of the League to place the power in the hands of responsible representatives of the people; to frame wholesome laws and carry on an honest Government. That it is not the wish of the League to effect the immediate separation of the colony from the parent country, if equal laws and equal rights are dealt out to the whole free community; but that if Queen Victoria continued to act upon the advice of dishonest ministers, and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for this colony, under the assumed authority of Royal prerogative, the Reform League will endeavour to supersede such Royal prerogative by asserting that of the people, it being the most Royal of all prerogatives, as the people are the only legitimate source of all political power.
The political changes contemplated by the League are —
1. A full and fair representation.
2. Manhood suffrage.
3. No property qualification of members for the Legislative Council.
4. Payment of members; and
5. Short duration of parliament.[12]
Unknown maker (Australia), The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag), 1854, wool, cotton.
Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection. Gift of the King family, 2001


29 November 1854, Bakery Hill

Attorney Alexander Fraser wrote to the Ballarat times: I was with a painful interest that I went to the meeting on 29th November. Some time after the proceedings had commenced, the only political meeting I had ever attended in the colony, and I was at once deeply struck with the solemn earnestness of its tone, and with the absolute unanimity of sentiment which seemed to prevail; knowing, therefor, from what I myself had experienced from the abuse of local authority, what many others must have felt from a sense of perhaps more recent injustice, it appeared to me as plan as noon day that disastrous results must arise unless the policy pursued on the gold fields were completely altered, and the daily and hourly irritation caused by the collection of the license tax entirely given up.[13]

The following were present at the meeting: Thomas Barr[14]; Raffaello Carboni; William Dalgliesh [15]; John Greenwell[16]; Thomas Kennedy; Peter Lalor; John Manning[17]; Robert McCandlish[18]; John McNeil[19]; Frederick Vern; John Williams [20]



03 December 1854, 2pm, Adelphi Hotel

A meeting of the Ballarat Reform League was organised for 2pm on 03 December 1854 at the Adelphi Hotel. The intention was to elect a Central Committee, and that each 40 members would have the power to elect one member for the Central Committee. [21]

Ballarat Reform League Members

Flying the Eureka Flag from the Guardian Eureka Centenary Issue, University of Ballarat Historical Collection

The architects of the Ballarat Reform League were British Chartists George Black, Henry Holyoake, Henry Nicholls, Thomas Kennedy, J.B. Humffray, Peter Lalor, Timothy Hayes and Frederick Vern.[22]

They expressed their political agenda the following way:

If Queen Victoria continues to act upon the ill advice of dishonest ministers and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for the colony, ... the Reform League will endeavour to supersede such Royal prerogative by asserting that of the people, which is the most royal of all prerogatives, as the people are the only legitimate source of all political power.[23]


Members (incomplete)

Alfred Black (Committee); George Black; Hugh Brady; Raffaello Carboni; Chris Christensen; George Cumming; Harry De Longville; Hugh Gray; Alfred Grove; Timothy Hayes (Committee); George Holyoake; Henry Holyoake; J.B. Humffray (Committee); Thomas Kennedy; Peter Lalor; John Manning; Robert McCandlish; Henry Nicholls; Henry Ross; George Thompson; Frederick Vern; Alfred Weir; John Williams

In the News

We salute the League [but not the trio, Vern, Kennedy, Humffray] and tender our hopes and prayers for its prosperity [in the shape of a goodly pile of half-crowns]. The League has undertaken a mighty task [the trio’ll shirk it though], fit only for a great people - that of changing the dynasty of the country [Great Works]. The League does not exactly propose, nor adopt, such a scheme, but we know what it means, the principles it would inculcate, and that eventually it will resolve itself into an Australian Congress [Great Works!!].[24]


"This league is nothing more or less than the germ of independence. The die is cast, and fate has stamped upon the movement its indelible signature. No power on earth can now restrain the united might and headlong strides for freedom of the people of this country, and we are lost in amazement while contemplating the dazzling panorama of the Australian future. We salute the league, and tender our hopes and prayers for its prosperity. The League have undertaken a mighty task, fit only for a great people - that of changing the dynasty of the country. The League does not exactly propose, not adopt such a scheme, but know what it means, the principles it would inculcate, and that eventually it will resolve itself into an Australian Congress. [25]

Also See

Ballarat Reform League Charter

Ballarat Reform League Inc.

Ballarat Reform League Inc. Monuments Project

Ballarat Reform League Members

Chartism

Eureka Flag

Henry Nicholls

J.B. Humffray

Other Sites

References

  1. http://www.spiritofeureka.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=51, downloaded 08 March 2013.
  2. Toscano, Joseph, Reclaiming the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion, Anarchist Media Institute, Parkville.
  3. http://www.ballaratreformleague.org.au/, downloaded 07 March 2013.
  4. http://www.ballaratreformleague.org.au/, downloaded 07 March 2013.
  5. http://www.ballaratreformleague.org.au/, downloaded 07 March 2013.
  6. http://www.ballaratreformleague.org.au/, downloaded 07 March 2013.
  7. Ballarat Times, 28 October 1854
  8. MacFarlane, Ian, Eureka from the Official Records, Public Record Office of Victoria, 1998, p192-3.
  9. MacFarlane, Ian, Eureka from the Official Records, Public Record Office of Victoria, 1998, p 193.
  10. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  11. http://www.spiritofeureka.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=51, downloaded 08 March 2013.
  12. Geelong Advertiser, 14 November 1854.
  13. From Tent To Parliament, Berry Anderson & Co., Ballarat.
  14. The Argus, 11 December 1854.
  15. The Argus, 11 December 1854.
  16. West Australian, 05 December 1904.
  17. The Argus, 11 December 1854.
  18. Wither, W.B., History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999, p238.
  19. Wither, W.B., History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999, p238.
  20. West Australian, 05 December 1904.
  21. From Tent To Parliament, Berry Anderson & Co., Ballarat, p12.
  22. Beggs Sunter, Anne, Eureka the First Republic?, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, 1997.
  23. Beggs Sunter, Anne, Eureka the First Republic?, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, 1997.
  24. Ballarat Times, 18 November 1854.
  25. Ballarat Times, 23 November 1854.