Andrew Hermiston

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Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Post 1854 Experiences


There are still pioneers of early Ballarat who remember vividly the stirring scenes of the early days. Some are still residents of Ballarat; others are scattered over the state.
Mr. Andrew Hermiston, of "Riversdale," a fine grazing property on the Upper Goulburn, near Alexandra, in a recent conversation, said: - "I arrived on Ballarat with several mates in 1853. We were digging on Eaglehawk before that, and humped our swags across country to Ballarat. We pitched on Pennyweight Flat, and soon afterwards had a couple of claims on the Eureka lead, and went through all the stirring times of 1854, which ended in the Eureka riot. Most of us were young fellows, and, whether we liked it or not, we were drawn into the agitation over the licenses. It was not so much the tax the diggers objected as the high handed way in which it was collected.
"When a hunt was on for the license the watchword would pass along the lead, "Joe," "Joe," and then men would scurry down the windlass rope, or hide, many for pure mischief, others because they had no license. All who could not show the license were handcuffed and taken along until the raid was completed, and then marched in a gang to "the logs."
"We were all excited over the acquittal of Bentley for the murder of James Scobie. I knew Scobie well. He was a bright, steady young chap. It was the custom for the diggers to have a jollification on Saturday night. On Monday morning they were ready for work again. When the meeting was arranged for, alongside Bentley's, word passed round. "All hand must go," "We'll see this thing through." "Lynch the beggar" and the wild talk a crown of angry men will indulge in was shouted from all sides. When the crowd was thickest and the troopers were on the ground, someone threw a stone and smashed a lamp. Then sticks and stones flew like hail, amid cries of "Where's Bentley," "Bring him out." "Who's got matches?" "Burn him out." A few ran round to the back, and soon the building was on fire. Efforts were made by some to save the con-tents of the store and hotel, but as fast as the stuff was thrown out it was thrown back into the flames. I remember a spring-cart was standing in the yard, and it, too was run into the fire. Bentley came rushing out at the back bareheaded, with a pair of spurs on: a trooper held a horse while he jumped on, and he was gone before anyone could stop him.
"The excitement after that grew. Meetings were being constantly held, and there was talk of fighting. I was present at the big meeting in November on Bakery Hill, when we burnt our licenses. We marched in single file past the fire, and each man threw his license on as he passed it. Thenwe were drilling every night. We didn't want a fight, but we had to do as the others did. Our claim was right inside the ground enclosed by the stockade, but we were camped in the gully some distance away. For several nights before the fight we slept in our clothes, with our guns ready and a night watch set. I was sitting by the camp fire on the Sunday morning when the attack was made, just before daybreak, and was roused by the volley fired by the sol-diers. It just sounded to me like a file drawn sharply along the teeth of a cross-cut saw. I roused my mates at once, and we saw the flashes and heard the din of the fight. We planted our weapons and made off to the Black Hill until the trouble was over. Had the fight been a day or two later we should have been all in it, but we did not expect an attack until the Military at the camp had been reinforced.
"After we settled down to work again we did very well. There were eight in our party, and we sank a number of holes. Some were good, some duffers. I remember we were the second party to bring an engine on to the field. The first was an 8-horse portable engine, the end of which blew out one day and pitched right over some shops into an adjoining street."[1]

Charles A. Doudiet, Eureka Slaughter 3rd December, 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.
VICTORIA'S BIGGEST BATTLE THE EUREKA STOCKADE. Mr. A. Hermiston's Experiences. [As told to the Mansfield Courier.] [Continued.] This leads up to the historic march on the Stockade, and with the exception of a few discrepancies, I ackowledge the following as a very good account of the attack on the Stockade, written by Dr. W.H. Fitchett, in the July number of the Cornhill Magazine. However I would like to ask the writer of this article, if he could tell me, after that awful morning, who ordered the tents of the diggers to be destroyed, many of the wounded being burned in their beds. Was it Thomas or the Superintendent of Police? I think this is horrors enough without dealing with any more:- Meanwhile in this whole distracted scene there was one cool brain with a clear purpose in it. Captain Thomas was a capable soldier, who could form a plan, keep it hidden in the cells of his own brain till the moment for action came, and then carry it out with swift and unfaltering resolution. He had seem- it may be seen with soldierly indignation an armed fort, with a strange flag, and men drilling for com bat - built within cannon shot of the spot where the Queen's flag flew, But he also saw, with a soldiers glance that the Stockade for him was an opportunity. To attempt operations in miners, scattered over many square miles of rough country, would have been a business at once perilous and useless. Moreover, the miners, as a whole class were not committed to the dangerous spirits of the movement to miners, scattered over many square miles of rough country, would have been a business at once perilous and useless. Moreover, the miners, as a whole class were not committed to the rising. ... Then Thomas sent the word all to arms through the camp. His plans were business like, but his force was small. It consisted of 65 men of the 12th Regiment, under Captain Quade; 87 men of the 40th, under Captain Wise ; 100 mounted police, 24 foot police-at foot ... and by 3 am. they moved out in silence on their adventure. The night was still black when the attacking force silently defiled from the camp and began its march towards the Stockade. Thomas had made his arrangements cleverly. Part of the mounted police swept to the left of the Stockade, to threaten its flank and rear. The direct attack was made by detachments of the 12th and 40th; and, with a shrewd soldier's judgment, Thomas made his stroke at the Stockade where the slope was steepest . He judged that the attack would be least expected there, and that amateur troops, 'firing down" a slope in the dark, would be sure to fire over the heads of his soldiers When the attacking party, marching in strictest silence, came within 300 yards of the Stockade, the detachments of the 12th and 40th extended them selves in skirmishing order, and then advanced, still without firing a shot. Half the remaining distance had just been covered when there was a stir in the Stockade; a dozen muskets flashed through the darkness on the troops. The Queen's troops had been fired upon in the Stockade was an ex-soldier who had seen active service in India under Lord Gough. The sound of the bugle woke him. He cried to his mate, "'That call means. extend into skirmishiing order. The military are here. "For a few minutes the darting of flames of the musketry fire lit up the darkness along the line of Thomas's men, and from the double breastwork of the Stockade. But discipline told at once. The firing from the Stockade was an intermittent splutter, the volleys of the soldiers were a sustained blast of sound, that might have shaken more solid troops than Lalor was try ing to get into position. Raffaello, who was sleeping within the Stockade, and was awakened by the sound of shots fired from the Stockade, and answered by the scream of the bugle from the attacking force. He ran out, and, in the light of the fires still burn ing in the Stockade, saw the red line of soldiers, with the little bugler in front, bugle to his mouth. He caught a glimpse, too. he records, of long legged Verne running across the Stockade, eastward, to escape, while one of the insurgent Captains was directing someone to fire at the running figure. At that moment, says Raffaello, "'the 'old comrade. 'Charge' was distinctly heard." There was a sound of running feet, and then the red coats-with the gleam of bayonets sparkling through the line of red were scrambling over the barricade. There was a moment of hand-to-hand fighting. One of the 40th was killed with a pike thrust clean through his body. The German blacksmith, who had spent the day forging pikes, tried to use one of the weapons he had forged; and attacked Lieutenant Richard fiercely. The soldier, however, parried the thrust of the pike with his sword, and replied with a stroke which literally sliced off the top of the unfortunate blacksmith's skull. The firing of the soldiers was deadly, Lalor had his left shoulder shattered. Ross, an other leader, was shot in the groin. Yet another, Thonen, was killed by bullet through the head. A group of pikemen stood together, and were she down almost to a man. "In a few fierce minutes the fighting was ended. Of the insurgents 16 were killed, eight others lay dying of their wounds, and probably others, who were carried off by their friends and concealed, shared the same fate. Four of the soldiers were slain and eleven wounded. Captain Wise, who commanded the 40th, was wounded by one of the first shots fired from the Stockade, but he still led on his men, and, while climbing over the barricade, received a second mortal wound. One of the 40th, describing the struggle long afterwards, says, "the diggers fought well and fierce; not a word being spoken till all was over." As showing how inadequate was the armament of the insurgents, a loaded pistol was picked up in the stockade after the fight, but it was charged with quartz pebbles instead of a bullet. "Lalor refused to be carried by his flying comrades from the Stockade and was hastily concealed beneath a pile of timber. He lay here in safety for some hours; then, when the troops and police had marched away, he was rescued by some of his friends, an carried to a hut, where for a time, he was sheltered. Medical, attendance was secured, and his arm amputated the shoulder. He was smuggled to Geelong later, and lay there undisturbed although £200 was offered for his arrest-till the abandonment of all proceedings against the insurgents made it safe for him to emerge. "The list of slain in the Stockade makes it quite clear tll if some of the foreigners took an active part in the oratory, before the actual shooting began, they had a very small share in the fighting itself. In the list of killed there are only two foreigners. The rest is made up of one native of New South Wales, two Canadians, two Scotchmen, three Englishmen, and ten Irishmen. The fighting impulse in the Irish blood, and the readiness in the Irish temper to take any part in proceedings against constituted authority, serve to explain the fact that more than half of the killed on that historic Sunday morning were Irishmen. "The troops marched back to he camp carrying their slain and wounded, and the captured flag of the insurgents.: They took, in addition no less than 125 prisoners, the majority of whom were dismissed the following day. "The moral effect of this resolute and well-planned assault was over whelming. It was shown in the unresisting way in which the prisoners were secured. But the effect of the capture of the Stockade on the whole mining community was also great. The miners, as a class, stood aloof from the politics of the Stockade; they had too much solid sense, and a respect for the law too deep-seated, to take part in what was practically an insurrection. The storekeepers, again, resented being harried by delegates from the rebels, who levied contributions of arms and ammunitions and stores from them, and gave no better equivalent than an ill-spelt receipt in the name of the people. It was with a sense of relief that they witnessed the disappearance of the flag that waved over the Stockade, and knew that social order ware stored. There is one particular error in the above that Mr. Hermiston would like to correct, with regard to Verne. This man was a Hungarian and a revolutionary in his own land. He was ordered to proceed to Warrenheip to ambush the troops coming from Melbourne; but there were also spies in the rebel camp, and the military knew of the ambush, therefore they did not come that road. The men under Verne were all out of the Stockade, when the battle started and they were the larger portion of the rebels. Knowing of the ambush it greatly assisted Captain Thomas plans in attacking them, Verne was in charge of the ambuscade, therefore he could not have been in the Stockade when it was attacked, as stated in Dr. Fitchett's account.[2]

See also

Ballarat Reform League

Raffaello Carboni

John Thomas

Frederick Vern

Further Reading

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


  1. The Argus, 03 December 1904.
  2. Euroa Advertiser, 03 September 1909.

External links