Government Camp, Camp Street

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S.T. Gill, Ballaarat Post Office and Township from Government Enclosure, 1857, lithograph. Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection, purchased 1994.
Samuel Thomas Gill, Lydiard Street from Bath's Hotel, 1857, engraving on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased 1994.

The first Government Camp was located on the quartz hill known as Post Office Hill, in the vicinity of the present Gold Museum at Golden Point. From this position it overlooked the gold diggings and, with its Union Jack flying about the military tents, the Commissioner's Tent was a focal point. The Police Office was a separate department.[1]

There is some confusion between the roles of the military, police and Commissioners. Evelyn Sturt the Commandant of the Melbourne City Police set up the police organisation in October 1851, favouring the establishment of the court and proper buildings in Ballarat, while Captain William Mair who arrived in mid-October as both Police Magistrate and Inspector of Police, preferred the Township of Buninyong. Sturt accepted tender for a rough guard room 16 feet by 10 feet and a bark stable of six stalls at the Ballarat Camp, while Mair added a stronger lockup in Buninyong.[2]

Urquhart surveyed the Township of Ballarat in December 1851 and the Camp was shifted from Post Office Hill in July 1852 to its site on the (then) edge of the Township on the escarpment overlooking the Yarrowee River. A gold seeker in 1852 wrote, "I well remember climbing on the green mound to the group of tents called the Camp, where I paid for my licence."[3]

The Government Camp (or Police Camp) was located between Lydiard Street and Camp Street. The Art Gallery of Ballarat is now on the site. It's high position enabled the troopers to look down onto the diggings surrounding the Yarrowee Creek as well as Eureka, Ballarat East and Golden Point.

The following letter was written from Ballarat by Alfred Eyre to the Colonial Secretary in Melbourne and outlines conditions on the Eureka Lead in November 1852:

Ballarat 8th March 1852
In transmitting the enclosed sections from the Gold Workings, I have the honor to state for the information of His Excellency the Lieut. Governor, that during the past week a considerable number of persons have left the diggings in this neighbourhood and are reported to have gone to the Ovens. The reasons assigned to their leaving are first that at the "Eureka" numbers have sunk deep holes and have not succeeded in obtaining any gold, and secondly the water their is beginning to fail.
The Gold at the "Eureka" Diggins appears to be very irregularly deposited and lays in large pockets or masses, which will account for the great quantity obtained by some of the more fortunate miners, while many others have obtained none. I consider the population today to be three thousand five hundred souls.
New diggins are reported to have been discovered about two miles from Boningyong near the "Leigh" and are said to be very rich, I intend searching for them during the early part of this month.
2nd The Escort conveys 18,075 ounces of gold today from this station, and as the one cart is insufficient to take it I have been obliged to hire a second light cart on the Diggins,
3rd Generally speaking the population is pretty orderly, a detachment of six foot police men arrived here from Mount Alexander on Wednesday last, and have been actively employed since that time in discovering the sly Grog Tents,
4th No disturbances worthy of notice have occurred during the week and the people are generally speaking healthy.
5th After the close of the present week when I shall have had opportunity of going through the districts, I anticipate the honour of having enabled to furnish a more complete and formal report of the whole of the Diggins in the neighbourhood of Ballarat and Boninyong.
I have the honor to be
Your Most Obedt Servant
Alfred Eyre
Actg P.M.[4]
Mining Registrar's Office, 1856.
William Mair Victoria and Riverina - a biographical record of some of the pioneer families of Victoria and the Riverina. McCarron, Bird, Melbourne, 1933.

On 28 October 1852 the following report was forwarded from the Ballarat goldfields to the Colonial Secretary on Melbourne:

I have the honor to report for the information HIs Excellency the Lieutenant Governor that the water in the "Eureka" and smaller adjoining gullies having now nearly dried up the miners are moving their tents from their places to the banks of the river Leigh, many have even commenced to cart the earth down to the river to be washed, with this exception no change has taken place among them since my last report,
The yield of Gold has in no way diminished while the quality lodged for Escort rather exceeds that of last week.
Generally speaking these goldfields may be said to be quiet and orderly, but several rogues and vagabonds have lately crept in the consequence is that many robberies are being committed. Twelve of these men were apprehended last week, and six committed for trial and are the same referred to in my communications of the 25th Inst.
Many complaints having reached me of the inadequacy of the Escort for the quantity of Gold especially from the Store Keepers and Gold Purchasers who complain of their Capital being kept idle, I have the remedy thus, succeeded in hiring a Cart for the sum of 26 pounds and thus send down all the Gold in the camp except that left for safe keeping. I tgrust His Excellency will approve of and sanction the payment of this extra cart.
Good health generally speaking prevails throughout the Diggings.
I have the honor to enclose the usual weekly returns.
I have the honor to be
your most Obedient Servant
(Evesly) Cockburn
Asst Com [5]

The Honorable The Colonial Secretary,
15th November 1852
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter No 52/7646 dated 4th instant having reference to the escape of some Prisoners from the lock up at this station and stating that His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor desires that an investigation be set on foot to lead to the discovery of the guilty party amongst the Police and also that every particular measure be adopted towards the apprehension of the prisoners, and that I take immediate steps toward the erection of a more secure lock up, And in reply to state that the lock up from which these men escaped is the Building which has always been used here for a lock up, and I believe originally erected by Captain Mair for that purpose. It is built of slabs and I have had as many as nine prisoners confined in to for periods of from ten to fourteen days and no escape was before effected, nor could it have occurred in this instance had ordinary care and attention been paid.
2nd In accordance with His Excellency's desire, I shall take immediate steps to get a new lock up built, and in the meantime I have employed persons to render the present one more secure by nailing strong stage both inside and out.
3rd A description of the escaped prisoners has been sent to the several police stations and every means used to apprehend them, but at present without effect.
4th All this I have no doubt that the knife found in the lock up was supplied by some person attached to teh camp. I have not been bale to fix the guilt (as yet) upon any individual.
I have the honor to be
Your most Obedient Servant
Alfred Eyre
Acting Cm[6]

The Honourable
Colonial Secretary
Commissioners' Office
Ballarat 13st Decr 1852
Sir, I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter no 52/9002 dated the 9th Inst. enquiring by direction of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor if the present place of confinement for Prisoners at Ballarat invites of their being safely detained here until required for trial at Geelong.
2nd And in reply to state that I consider the present means of keeping a limited number of prisoners for a short time in custody here to be sufficient, provided the lock-up at Boninyong be used for the custody of persons confined for serious offences, Should there be necessity to remove them from this station.

3rd The intended additions to the Lockup and gaol established here will also, when completed, afford much additional security. I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedt servt Alfred Eyre [7]

Also See

Eureka Government Camp



  1. Peter Butters, The Government Camp, Ballarat
  2. Peter Butters, The Government Camp, Ballarat
  3. Peter Butters, The Government Camp, Ballarat
  4. PROV, VPRS 1189, Unit 83, Item 52/7958.
  5. PROV, VPRS 1189, Unit 83, Item 52/7715.
  6. PROV, VPRS 1189, Unit 83, Item 52/8212.
  7. PROV, VPRS 1189, Unit 83, Item 52/9032.