George Black

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Courtesy Ballarat Heritage Services.


George Black was born in 1817. The brother of Alfred Black, George was well educated. Raffaello Carboni said he was born a gentleman, with pale cheeks, dry lips, clever eyes and sharp nose. [1]

A native of Nottingham, England, who had been active in Chartism from its early days, Black was a framework knitter and Methodist lay preacher who served as Nottingham delegate to the founding conference of the National Charter Association in 1840. There he warned delegates against setting subscriptions that the poor could not afford. By 1841, he had been forced out of his trade because of his political involvement and earned his living as an itinerant Chartist lecturer. Black served a short prison term for his violently expressed views, and was regarded as too radical by the Northern Star. Black and his brother Alfred Black migrated to Victoria, where he set up the Gold Digger's Advocate.[2]

George Black died in May 1879.

George Black at Beechworth

In 1853 George Black spoke to the diggers at Beechworth:

Diggers must have a voice in the Council, if you will only combine together, hold meetings such as the present, express your will in a firm and determined manner, you will accomplish your objects and obtain your rights; there is no need of force and of arms; for reason, mind, intelligence, are all-sufficient for the attainment of your rights. I trust this is not the last meeting that will assemble here, and that diggers will never rest till fairly represented in the Council.[3]

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

George Black, an influential member of the Ballarat Reform League, bought and edited the Diggers Advocate, a radical newspaper, launched in Ballarat by George Thompson and Henry Holyoake. The Diggers Advocate played an important role in the events leading up to the Eureka Stockade Rebellion.[4]

He was a voting member of the Ballarat Reform League, and on 11 November 1854 he proposed a Ballarat Reform League resolution. Black was a Chartist who was not present during the Eureka Stockade battle. When Andrew McIntyre, Fletcher and Westerby were convicted of burning Bentley’s Eureka Hotel George Black and Kennedy went to Melbourne to demand their release. Black and party presented a document to Governor Charles Hotham in Melbourne on November 27, and he spoke at the Bakery Hill Meeting on 29 November 1854. George Black and Thomas Kennedy went to Creswick to gather support in teh days proceeding the Eureka battle. [5]

Post 1854 Experiences

Black stood for Parliament in 1856, but was soundly beaten by J.B. Humffray. According to William Baker, who was his partner in a quartz crushing venture, Black was a Quaker. [6]

In The News

(From the Ballarat Times.)
To Signor Raffaello. Dear Sir, — I have read your 'Eureka Stockade' with the deepest interest, but not with entire satisfaction. I have not time for an elaborate review of it, but I feel it to be my duty to notice a few passages in which you have mentioned my humble and all-but-forgotten name. At some future day, should health and leisure permit, I hope to give an account of what I know of the Eureka affair, and then your book will be subjected to a thorough examination. At page 58 you open chap. 45 with the following paragraphs : — "Between four and five o'clock of same afternoon we became aware of the silly blunder which proved fatal to our cause. Some three or four hundred diggers arrived from Creswick Creek — a gold-field famous for its pennyweight fortunes — grubbed up through hard work, and squandered in dissipation among the swarm of sly grog sellers in the district. "We learned from this Creswick legion that two demagogues had been stumping at Creswick, and called the miners there to arms, to help their brothers on Ballarat, who were worried by scores by the peridious hands of the Camp. They were assured that, on Ballarat, there was plenty of arms, ammunition, forage, and provisions, and that preparations, on a grand scale, were making to redress, once for all, the whole string of grievances. They had only to march to Ballarat, and would find there plenty of work, honor, and glory. 'I wonder how honest Mr Black could sanction with his presence, such suicidal rant, such absurd bosh of that pair of demagogues, who hurried down these four hundred diggers from Creswick, helpless, grog-worn ; that is, more or less dirty and ragged, and proved the greater nuisance. One of them, Michael Tuohy, behaved valiantly, and so I shall say no more.' Signor Raffaello ! by whom have you been led to pen these paragraphs? You Say, 'We learned from this Creswick legion, &c , &c. "Did this Creswick legion" say noting about a special messenger riding, post-haste, from Ballarat to Creswick's, with a note for myself, or Thomas Kennedy, or any man 0n the creek? And did not "this Creswick legion" inform you that this note was handed to me after the dispersion of the meeting, solely for which we had gone to the Creek, and just as we were about to return to Ballarat - that they ('"this Creswick legion' and Many others) reassembled to hear the contents of tHe note — and that, then it was, that they felt called on to go to the assistance of the men of Ballarat? It "this Creswick legion" made no mention Of the abovE facts, but gave you, instead, the substance-of the paragraphs transcribed, they grossly misinformed you. The truth is, Reynolds, Kennedy Moran, myself and a friend left. Ballarat for Creswicks, on Thursday morning, November 30th , when all was perfectly quiet and no license hunt was expected, for the purpose of promoting the objects of the Ballarat Reform League. In the afternoon, most of the diggers of Creswick's gathered around us, when we informed them of the principles and objects of the League, and gave them an account of the mission of Kennedy and myself to the Governor, for the release of M'Intyre, Fletcher, and Westerby. The business of the meeting was soon over, and the diggers quietly dispersed without the least expectation of being immediately called on to arm themselves and proceed to Ballarat. They had not reached their tents when a young man, a stranger to me, arrived on horseback from Ballarat, with a note for me or Kennedy, or any man on the Creek. The note was in the handwriting of, and was signed by S. Irwin (now J.P at Ballarat), I Patrick Sheehan and another, whose name was so badly written that I could not make it out. Immediately after reading the note I tore it up, lest it should fall into the hands of Government. The substance of the note, I well remember, was as follows : That the authorities had been out license hunting, and had fired on the diggers ; that if they came out, on the morrow, the diggers had made up their minds to give them pepper,' and that they (the writers) considered that the cause for which the men of Ballarat had taken up arms, was the cause of the men of Creswick, and they hoped that all who could come would come and bring with them all the arms they could collect. The note also promised that the men of Ballarat would find room in their tents for those who might, come, and would accommodate them as well as they could. But for this note the 'demagogues' and myself would have left the men of Creswick's in hipphappy ignorance of the rising which had taken place at Ballarat, and, in all probability, not one of them would have been in the Stockade on the ever-memorable Sunday morning following. !The blame, then, if any, of bringing to the Stockade the "four hundred helpless, grog-worn, that is, more or less dirty and ragged diggers of Creswick's is chargeable neither on themselves (p or wretches, as you describe them, but really high-souled men, who, appealed to as they were, in the fiery words of Messrs. Irwin, Sheehan and another, scorned to leave the men of Ballarat to fight unassisted the battle of the diggers generally) nor on the 'pair of demagogues' and "honest Mr Black," but on Messrs Irwin, Sheehan and another, or on some committee for whom the above gentlemen acted. At page ninety-nine the following passage occurs : "What has become of George Black, was, and is still, a mystery to me. I lost sight of him since his leaving for Creswick Creek, on December 1st. 1854."You lost sight of me from one to two o'clock p.m., on Saturday, after I had vainly endeavored with the Rev. Patrick Smyth to prevail on Lalor, Vern, and M'Gill to disperse the men, as I was very confident that if they came into collision with the forces which were, and would soon be at the Ballarat Camp they would be overwhelmed, and a great, and useless sacrifice of life would be the consequence. When writing the above you forgot that on Friday night, 1st December, I accompanied the Rev. Patrick Smyth and yourself to the Camp, as a deputation, to obtain, if possible, the release of the men who had been arrested the day before taking part in the disturbances caused by the license hunt. Then, as disturbance caused by the license hunt. Then, as to the mystery of my whereabouts: ever since the acquittal of the State prisoners I have been diligently engaged in business, or some other way, at this place, but ever ready to do what I could in the cause of liberty and humanity. As yet, I have not succeeded in business according to my wishes, but I hope ere long to be able to meet the men of Ballarat, and satisfy them that I am indeed the honest man you have represented me to be, through evil report and through good report, through weal and through woe, in prosperity and in adversity. I have retained the principle which I was my pride to advocate amongst them, and which I shall ever hold, and never fear to avow as occasion may arise. Others may seek the favor of the powers that be; "as for me, I have no sympathy with any government that is not the free choice of the people. You do not think, signor, that I have deserted the cause of liberty, and that I nm quietly ingratiating, myself with the government. No, no, such is far from being the case. From what I can learn, I am yet a trouble to our rulers. Not many days ago, I was informed, on good authority, that I was closely watched, and that the warrant for my arrest for the Eureka affair had not yet been withdrawn. Well, I hope to to live trouble, more than over, men whose principles and actions are despotic, whether high or low in office, or in society. Now, to clear up another of your mysteries. In your account of the interview which Father Smyth, yourself, and I had with the Camp officers on the night of Friday, December 1st, you say that when we wore returning from the Camp, "Father Smyth continually kept on a sotto voce conversation with Mr Black only," and that this was and still is a mystery to you ! I assure you, signor, Father Smyth said not a word to me, to the best of my recollection, which he was not perfectly willing for you to hear. I am not aware that there were any secrets between the rev. gentleman and myself. Until I read the passage just quoted, I was under the impression that you heard all that passed in conversation on the occasion in question. But I must conclude. Someday I hope to return to the subject, and do full justice to it according to my humble abilities.
I remain, Signor.
Your's truly, G. BLACK.[7]

MR. GEORGE BLACK. - There appeared in the obituary column of The Argus a few days ago the following notice:— "George Black, at Kew, 62 years an old colonist, deeply regretted." A few of the few who remember the early days of the colony, and are familiar with matters in connexion with the change of policy towards the miners which followed the Stockade, read this brief notice with some solemnity and wonder, for it brought back reminiscences of olden days and there was wonder that no more was said about one who helped to make colonial history. After some inquiry, it was ascertained that the George Black referred to in the obituary notice was the person for whom the Government once offered a reward of £200 as a traitor to Her Majesty, and an instigator of rebellion. Yet Mr George Black never was a traitor in any sense, and the only rebellion which he helped to instigate was opposition to very harsh and unwise laws. As far back as 1853 Mr. George Black became proprietor of a paper called the Diggers' Advocate, which was printed first by a Mr. Hough then at the old Banner office, in Latrobe street, Melbourne, by Mr. Hugh M'Coll, of Grand North-western Canal fame; and afterwards at the Herald office. This paper was established, partly, of course, with the idea of making money, and partly to advocate the rights of the diggers, who were sorely harassed by "traps," licences and the general policy of the Government of the day. Mr. George Black had kept a store at the Ovens, where he made some money, and a part of that money he invested in the purchase of the Diggers' Advocate, which had been started by Mr. George Thompson and Mr. Henry Holyoake, brother of the well-known writer on Co-operation in London. Soon after Mr. Black became proprietor the editorship of this gold fields weekly was entrusted to Mr. H. R. Nicholls, now of the Ballarat Star, who had only just arrived in the colony. Mr. Ebenezer Syme, who had also only arrived a short time before, used to write one or two articles a week for the Advocate and nearly the whole of the writing was done by Mr. Nicholls and him. It is needless to say that the politics were liberal. Not, certainly, liberal in the sense in which that unhappy word is now used, for neither of the writers entertained any idea of giving all power to a chance majority of one House, but liberal in the sense that the fair representation of the people was demanded, and that there was bitter opposition to the gold-lace régime of the day, as well as to the high-handed proceedings of the authorities on the goldfields. One grand and fatal mistake was, however, made at the outset. Instead of a printing plant having been taken to the diggings, the paper was printed in Melbourne, and sent up by coach, the consequence being that the parcels were frequently left upon the road, and some- times disappeared altogether. This I believe, prevented the Advocate being a grand success, because it could not compete with the papers which were started on the gold-fields, and after some few years it was stopped. Mr. George Black was at Ballarat at the time of the Eureka outbreak, which he did something to bring about, but he was not in the stockade at the time of the attack, and I do not think that he had been there for some days before it. He was, I know personally, very doubtful as to the success of the movement. The proclamation — a very wordy and initiated one — which was read to the "troops" was not written by Mr. George Black, but by his brother, Mr. Henry Black, who was afterwards killed by the unexpected explosion of a blast whilst quartz-mining at Staffordshire Reef. Mr. Henry Black was not endowed with literary powers, and he was fully aware of the fact, and he therefore asked the present writer to draw up a proclamation for him, which the said writer, for prudential and other reasons, declined to do. The proclamation was therefore read as it was first written, and I need only say that its style and matter would not be out of place in some of the manifestoes of the new-light "liberals" of the present day. After the stockade affair had fairly been squelched by the prompt action of the Government forces, Mr. Black remained in hiding for some considerable time, but again resumed active connexion with what was then called the Gold-diggers' Advocate, a title adopted to prevent any dispute as to implicated interest in the old Diggers' Advocate. Through the columns of his paper he advocated many of the reforms which have now been made, but he was unpopular because he opposed the reduction of the postage on inland letters from 6d. to 2d., his contention being that the smallest of coins then in general use was not too much to give for the postage of a letter. However, the Advocate under both its names did not live many years. It was planted in the wrong place, could not hold its own against the gold-fields papers which gathered their news in the place of publication, and, as it were, gave it to their readers hot and hot. Afterwards Mr. George Black betook himself to mining pursuits, or, rather, to speculation, with, I believe, no very great success. For many years his name has not been heard of as a public man, and there are probably few who know how much his early labours contributed to bring about one of the most prominent events in the history of this colony. Mr. Black never possessed the arts which make public men very popular, and in Ballarat he did not secure the support of the miners, whom he had certainly served as well as many to whom they gave a more generous recognition. In 1850 he contested Ballarat East with Mr. J.B. Humffray and Mr. Thomas Loader, and the result of the poll was as follows:— Humffray, 690 ; Loader, 255 ; Black, 24. From this it will be seen that the goldfields advocate was not so popular as a stranger from Melbourne, although the capture of the advocate had been valued at £200 by the Government, whilst £500 had been offered for the capture of Vern, who somehow obtained a prominence which he did not in the least deserve. The bill issued by the Government set forth that "whereas two persons of the names of Lawler (sic) and Black, late of Ballarat, did, on or about the 18th day of November last, at that place, use certain treasonable and seditious language, and incite men to take up arms with a view to make war against Our Sovereign Lady the Queen," &c. No doubt strong language was used, and no wonder, but it may safely be said that Mr. George Black was as little of a rebel or a demagogue as could be found south of the line. The voting in Ballarat East showed that he had not made such an impression as either Mr. Humffray or Mr Lalor; and I, who knew him well in his best days, can testify that he had all the instincts of a gentleman, with few of the qualities by which vulgar popularity is won. However, he was not quite so unpopular with the voters of Grenville as with those of Ballarat East, for he was very nearly elected for the former place. Indeed, Mr. Black was the victim on that occasion of a very unpleasant sell, or of too much confidence. In those days the telegraph was not available to allay the anxiety of candidates, and the returns from the various polling places, some of them 10 miles apart, had to be brought in by horsemen, over roads which only those who have seen them can appreciate. On this occasion the roads were very bad, the country was almost a swamp, and the day was cold, dark, and wet. Mr. Black was at the central polling place, the Crown Hotel, Buninyong, anxiously awaiting the arrival of returns. As they came in, he and his friends grew more and more elate, and finally matters appeared to them all to be so satisfactory that Mr. Black was induced to go out on to the balcony and return thanks for having been elected. All his supporters departed home in high spirits, but when the complete returns came in it turned out that there was a good majority against him, and his thanks had been premature. This event may be said to have concluded Mr. Black's public life. As far as I am aware, he never contested an election again, and took little or no part in political strife. His period of activity extended from 1853 to 1860, or thereabouts, and those who have grown up since then may well wonder who Mr. George Black was, and feel surprise at the memories which the news of his death recalls. The old ones — those who made the colony what it now is, or rather what it once was — were young in those days, full of the spirit of adventure, and keen to face wrong and assert the right. If there is a charm in saying "We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn," is there not a tenfold one, a sense of mournful pleasure, in remembering how we stood together in the days when all was strange and new — save the folly of rulers, which is as old as the hills — and when fortune was all before us, and memories of home were still keen and clear? Thus it comes about that the few words which I have quoted from the obituary column illumined a track long passed over, recalled some events only to be found recorded in the history of Ballarat, and some which cannot be found there at all. Thus it is, also, that I deem that a man like Mr. Black ought not to be allowed to pass away without some record of his work and some tribute to his memory, as one who did his best, and one who did that best conscientiously. As far back as 1853, he was seriously ill with disease of the lungs, and never had the bold energy to become a popular favourite ; and that he lived so long after his first attack was a matter of wonder to many. He has gone at last, another of that band of enterprising men who made this colony a marvel to the nations, and who showed an aptitude for self-government and peaceful settlement never equalled in any other period of the world's history.
H.R.N. (Probably Henry Nicholls) [8]

See also

Ballarat Reform League

Alfred Black


Thomas Kennedy

Henry Nicholls

Ebenezer Syme

Further Reading

Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.


  1. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  3. George Black, Chartist and later found member of the Ballarat Reform League, The Argus, 08 April 1853.
  5. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  6. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  7. The Age, 31 December 1855
  8. The Argus, 19 April 1879.

External links

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Caption, Reference.