James Baker

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Signature of James Baker from the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition
Samuel Thomas Gill, Marking the Claim, c1852, watercolour and gum arabic on paper.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, gift of Mr. Tony Hamilton and Miss. S.E. Hamilton, 1967.


Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Post 1854 Experiences

James Baker was the secretary for the Horn of Plenty Co., a gold mining firm, in 1860.[1] He was elected President of the Ballarat Mining Board on 27 February 1858 and became the first Secretary of the Ballarat School of Mines in 1870.[2]


All old Ballarat will remember the local court, and the great fun and frolic in dulged in by the friends of the candidates for a seat in that embryo mining Parliament. As is always usual with would be legislators for either a thinking board or Leglslative Assembly, promises are plentifully given, and the slightest wish of the interrogatory voter, as a matter of good policy, acceded to. At one election Dr Kenworthy, long since dead, was a candidate, and but for the. manoeuvres of Carboni Raffaello (“Great Works"), he (Dr Kenworthy) would have certainly been elected. In those days the gentlemen of the medical profession were not so full of business as one might expect, But the fact was, there was comparatively little sickness; and this worthy American “medico,” as a consequence, took to the life of a seeker, for the precious racial, and with rd shirt, moleskin unmentionables, and plenty of “ Yankee blarney, and was pretty successful, both as a gold digger and a popularity, hunting adventurer. The “blarney,” in dealing with the "digger mob” of those early days, was an essential, and served the doctor instead of logic. It was not, therefore, very surprising that the diggers heard him gladly, and drank his jolly good health in bumpers of bottled ale at their own expense. Although a digger, and always in digger costume, Kenworthy was invariably called “Doctor,” and when at the Eureka Stockade he was appointed medical officer to the insurgent forces the expectant warriors for diggers' rights rejoiced exceedingly. On the day. Kenworthy stood as a candidate the morning was ushered in by many a shout at the grog shanties on the flat. Warden Daly (since dead) occupied the chair on the temporary platform erected on Bakery Hill, and a big crowd of the Eureka boys assembled to give their votes. The doctor addressed the assemblage In his usual “streak of lightning” style, and was duly proposed as a fit and proper person to fill the position of member of the Local Court. Everything seemed favourable and we ell expected the doctor right for election, when up jumps “Great Works, his repulsive face, fiery red beard, and ferret-like, wicked eyes sparkling with envy and hatred, gave the assembled voters the cue that Carboni Raffaello meant mischief. He went off like a sky-rocket, denounced the doctor as a “spy and a traitor,” and declared that when he (“Great Works”) was taken as a prisoner to the camp by the lousy “traps,” he there saw the doctor, disguised “vith a vig ” and false beard, pointing out to the blasted camp officials the principal rioters in the rebel camp; and thus acting the “double villain” by fawning on' the boys at the Stockade and selling them like a traitor in the camp. As this was spoken by “Great Works” in the most bitterly sarcastic and spiteful way, you may judge the effect it had on the crowd of excited diggers, “Blood-un ’ouns !” says Pat Malone, “just let me at the doctor shpy, and if I don't lave him so that bis own mother won’t know him, nor Dr Bunce be able to hale him for the next month, then chuck me down the first shicer we come to on our way to the flat.” A general howl of execration followed this impromptu delivery, and the doctor thinking discretion the best part of valour, amidst a storm of groans and boo-boos, and cries of “ Traitor," made his way over the hill, and cleared for his canvas home completely flabbergasted. The result was, as might have been anticipated, “ Great Works" was elected by a big majority; show of hands being the mode of voting. At another election W. C. Weeks, afterwards member for the Ovens, and now dead, stood up to propose a well-known digger named Kennedy, aftas “Lickln the Lag,” so called from his having at one of the meetings prior to the fight made use of the following poetic couplet:— Moral persuasion Is arrant humbug; Nothing convinces like a lick in the log; Kennedy, although well known, was not well liked, for during the battle twas said be had shown the white feather, and altogether was not the man to fight when there was a chance of running away, and this peculiar weakness of his was freely commented upon by the survivors of the fight la consequence of his failing he (Kennedy) was not popular, and as soon as Weeks proposed him the cry arose, “Stand yourself; you’re the better man; we’ll vote for you. Weeks, Weeks, Weeks!" was echoed and re-echoed by the crowd. “Oh,” said “Oily Charley," “gentlemen, if you prefer me to my friend Kennedy, I cave in at once, and bow to the decision of your better judgment." The warden (Daly), there fore put the motion that Weeks was a fit and proper person, &c., &c., and the rising of a forest of hands told Weeks he, not his friend, was elected. Charles bowed his thanks, and retired, seemingly altogether oblivious of his duty to Kennedy, whom he was pledged to propose and support. Poor Weeks, after being rejected for the Ovens on presenting himself to that constituency a second time, eked out a precarious living for years at lecturing and acting as Melbourne correspondent for the Ovens and Murray and some years ago died suddenly In Melbourne, neglected and uncared for by many whom he had in his time be friended, for he was in his day like many other members, “ a capital billet-getter.” It will be remembered that after leaving Ballarat, and before being returned for the Ovens, he held some menial position on the Government railways, and always said it was for this cause he was snubbed by many of the members of the House, who thought when returned to Parliament that they were at once transmogrified into gentlemen. H. R. Nicholls, of Ballarat, and John Wall, of Sebastopol, are the only members of the old local court, I believe, still residing amongst us. James Baker, the first chairman of the board, is now in New South Wales to a good billet under that Government, and I heard only recently has still the old “ Ballarat fire*’ in him, as shown in the early days of the gold diggings, when he gained the goodwill of the miners, and worked energetically and well for the righting of local grievances in the old Local Court.[3]

The first Ballarat Mining Board was elected on the 27th February, 1858, and Messrs James Baker, John Yates, Alfred Arthur O'Connor (for Ballarat Proper), William Frazor, Robert Lamb (for Buninyong), Duncan Gillies, Robert Critchley (for Smythesdale), Joseph Reed (for Creswick), — Martin (for Blackwood), and William Butcher (for Slieglitz) were the members, James Baker being chosen chairman. Mr Harrie Wood was appointed clerk, and he has held the office ever since. The first meeting of the board was on the 9th March, 1858. The Local Court members were remunerated by the fees paid in the cases brought before the courts in their judicial capacity. The Mining Boards receive each a Government subsidy of £500 a-year. The courts were more intensely local bodies than are the boards. The boards preside over and legislate for large districts, but the courts had very small areas of jurisdiction, nearly every mining centre, small or large, having its own court and its own regulations.
In looking at the mixed powers of the Local Courts and their great number, we see the cause of their abolition. The conjunction, of the legislative and judicial functions did not work satisfactorily, and the multiplicity of courts being followed by a multitude of varying regulations, another element of dissatisfaction was found to quicken the desire for further reform. Hence arose the present-Mining Boards and Courts of Mines, the former legislating for districts in which previously, per chance, half a score of Local Courts had exercised their anomalous union of jurisdictions, and the latter exercising judicial functions over areas coterminous with the mining board districts. [4]

See also

Ballarat Local Court

Raffaello Carboni

Henry Nicholls

John Wall

Further Reading

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


  1. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 22 August 1860, page 4. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  2. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~carrick/Ballarat%20a%20to%20b.html accessed 15 March 2013.
  3. Ballarat Star, 0 February 1881.
  4. Ballarat Star, 18 January 1870.

External links