Important Documents in History

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Page from the Magna Carta, Salisbury Cathedral, Photograph: Dorothy Wickham 2016
This Cathedral, Salisbury is the home of one of the copies of the Magna Carta,
Photograph: Dorothy Wickham 2016


"The ideals underpinning the Eureka uprising may be traced back as early as the Magna Carta of 1215 – meaning ‘The Great Charter’ – which began as a list of grievances recorded by the free men of England against the despotic rule of King John. The document has since become an international symbol of liberty and its sentiments were echoed in later landmark documents, including the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and importantly, the Ballarat Reform League Charter (1854), which epitomises the Eureka rebellion. The events at Eureka were also influenced by the ideas and experiences that gold seekers from all over the world brought with them to the central Victorian goldfields, leading them to challenge the unfair system they found themselves in. Some of these people had witnessed the revolutionary wave that swept across Europe in 1848, where social unrest, political instability and revolt had spurred socio-political movements seeking to create better societies. These diverse and daring ideas about freedom, utopian societies and law and order that many gold migrants brought with them, helped create the environment within which the Eureka rebellion thrived."[1]

The history of England during the reigns of William the Conqueror, his two sons, William Rufus and Henry I, his grandson Stephen, and the early Plantagenets, Henry II and his two sons Richard I and John were momentous in the history of government and society. This period covers the years between two of the most famous documents of English history: the Domesday Book and the Magna Carta.[2]

Domesday Book

The Domesday Book was commissioned by William the Conqueror and is the great land survey undertaken in 1086 of all lands and resources being owned in England at the time. Its purpose was to record all landholders so as to exact taxes on the them. It was called Doomsday and likened to the last judgement in the Bible by the people of England because 'there was no single hide nor a yeard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out'.[3]

It is interesting to note that names within the Domesday Book appear in the story of Eureka on the Ballarat East Gold Fields in 1854. Daniel Dark was a miner who signed the Benden Hassell Compensation Case Petition in 1855 in Ballarat, Victoria Australia. This was a case that resulted from Benden Hassell, a hotel keeper, being shot in a fracas on the night of 28 November 1854 as the 12th Regiment marched into Ballarat from Melbourne.

The first mention of the DARK surname in England is William of Arques (d’Arques) listed in the Domesday Book (under ‘W’). He held the great barony of Folkestone from Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, also possessing estates in Suffolk and Yorkshire. These estates descended to Matilda, his daughter who married Ruallon d’Avranches. The estates were lost but later recovered by William d’Arques who is said to be natural son of King Richard II, Duke of Normandy. Robert Dark held estates in Warwickshire in 1221, while Richard Dark held estates in Somerset in 1229. Over the next few centuries the Dark family flourished. The name Dark, spelt variously as Darke, Darques, and d’Arques, occurs in many documents. William d’Arques (Count Guillaume de Talou), son of the Duke of Normandy Richard II (996-1026) built the castle at Arques, Normandy, France, shortly after 1037.[4]

Magna Carta

Issued by King John of England who reigned 1199 to 1216, the Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in the world. The Domesday Book had been created in England before the Magna Carta, but the Domesday was more or less a census of the lands that had been conquered by the Normans from France. The Magna Carta however was established and for the first time, the idea that everyone was subject to the law, even the King and his followers. The Magna Carta was established in 1215 as a practical solution to the political crisis faced by King John. It remains the cornerstone of the British Constitution. Fundamental values put forward in the Magna Carta resonate with democratic principles today. The 39th Clause gave all 'free men' the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of the democratic principles put forward in the Magna Carta are reflected in the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and Bill of Rights (1791), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).[5]

American Declaration of Independence

Ballarat Reform League Charter