Goldfields Commission

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An enquiry into the immediate causes of the Eureka Stockade known as the Gold Fields’ Commission of Enquiry held its first meeting on 07 December 1854 in Melbourne.

Gold License, 01 May 1854, University of Ballarat Historical Collection.

Although the battle of Eureka was of short duration and there was only a small number killed and wounded in comparison to the great wars, the ramifications were immense. The whole goldfields administration was subsequently overhauled and revised. The Goldfields Commission was instigated after the Eureka Stockade, and sat for the first time on 14 December 1854. The Commission recommended the abolition of the Gold License on 08 January 1855, and also a general amnesty for all those associated with the riot at Eureka. On 27 March 1855 the Goldfields Commission recommended the replacement of the Gold License with an export duty on gold; introduction of the Miner's Right, giving franchise to the holder; and the abolition of the Gold Commission. The Government quickly adopted these measures. [1]

Dr R. L. Sharwood, in his paper, presented to the Law and History Conference, La Trobe University, in 1984, said "Let us examine what was attempted, and why; and endeavour to understand the reasons for the lack of lasting success" [for the instigation of the local courts at Ballarat]. Sharwood indicated that: "When Raffaello Carboni published his marvellously idiosyncratic account of the Eureka Stockade, he proudly announced himself on the title-page as'by the unanimous choice of his fellow-miners, member of the Local Court, Ballaarat', and, later in his book, he describes the Court as 'the off-spring of the Eureka Stockade!~ That was in 1855. Less than two years later, in August 1857, Peter Lalor, the hero of Eureka, told the Legislative Assembly that 'the majority of the thinking and intelligent men on the goldfields were opposed to the present Local Courts' and that he supported the proposal to 'abolish the system of elective judges? The irony is that both these old campaigners were right: the Local Courts on the gold fields did arise directly out of the events at Eureka, but this 'remarkable democratic experiment' (as Geoffrey Serle calls it), marking what Geoffrey Blainey has described as 'probably the high tide of Australian democracy', proved within a few hectic years to be a failure'. [2]

Report of the Gold Fields Commission, in Votes and Proceedings, Legislative Council, 1854-5, 11, A 76. Governor Hotham decided to appoint a royal commission to report generally on the gold fields on 16 November 1854 - before Eureka. The Letters Patent, however, were dated 7 December, 1854, four days after the Stockade. The Commission met first in Melbourne on 14 December, and then in Bath's Hotel, Ballarat, on 18 December. Its Report is dated 27 March, 1855. The record of evidence runs to 361 foolscap pages, recording 6381 questions and answers, all verbatim.

John Pascoe Fawkner (Batchelder & Co.), c1867. State Library of Victoria (H13540)

The members of the Commission were:- William Westgarth (Chairman), John Hodgson,John Pascoe Fawkner, John O'Shanassy, William Henry Wright, and James Ford Strachan. Wright was Chief Commissioner of Gold Fields. All the others (except Westgarth) were members of the Legislative Council. The Royal Commission was known as 'the Gold Fields Commission', not to be confused with 'the Gold Commission' which had the management of the gold fields prior to the 1855 Act.[3]

Also See

Augustus Greeves

Miner's Right


  1. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  2. Dr R. L. Sharwood, The Local Courts on Victoria's Gold Fields, 1855 to 1857, Melbourne University Law Review, Vol. 15, June 1986.
  3. Dr R. L. Sharwood, The Local Courts on Victoria's Gold Fields, 1855 to 1857, Melbourne University Law Review, Vol. 15, June 1986, Footnote 11.