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.


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]

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]

Supporting Prisoners

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. It was a fatal mistake, as the use of the word “demand” strengthened Governor Hotham’s resolve for control.[8]

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 the Ballarat Reform League was formed. [9]

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

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.[10]

The following were present at the meeting: Thomas Barr[11]; William Dalgliesh [12]; John Greenwell[13]

John Manning[14]; John Williams [15]

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. [16]

Ballarat Reform League Members

Alfred Black (Committee); George Black; Raffaello Carboni; Chris Christensen; George Cumming; Harry De Longville; Hugh Gray; Alfred Grove; Timothy Hayes (Committee); George Holyoake; Henry Holyoake; J.B. Humffray (Committee); Tom Kennedy; Peter Lalor; John Manning; Henry Ross; 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!!].[17]

"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. [18]

Also See

Ballarat Reform League Charter

Ballarat Reform League Inc.

Ballarat Reform League inc. Monuments Project

Other Sites


  1., downloaded 08 March 2013.
  2. Toscano, Joseph, Reclaiming the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion, Anarchist Media Institute, Parkville.
  3., downloaded 07 March 2013.
  4., downloaded 07 March 2013.
  5., downloaded 07 March 2013.
  6., downloaded 07 March 2013.
  7. Ballarat Times, 28 October 1854
  8. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  9., downloaded 08 March 2013.
  10. From Tent To Parliament, Berry Anderson & Co., Ballarat.
  11. The Argus, 11 December 1854.
  12. The Argus, 11 December 1854.
  13. West Australian, 05 December 1904.
  14. The Argus, 11 December 1854.
  15. West Australian, 05 December 1904.
  16. From Tent To Parliament, Berry Anderson & Co., Ballarat, p12.
  17. Ballarat Times, 18 November 1854.
  18. Ballarat Times, 23 November 1854.