John Potter

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John Lishman Potter, Manawatu Times, 28 October 1931.


John Lishman Potter was born in Durham, England. He died in Wellington, New Zealand on 26 October 1931.

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

In these times of rushing modernity it is interesting to retail the early days of the pioneers, the gold-diggers, and those hardy people who helped in a great measure to develop virgin country into wealthy and flourishing towns. To-morrow (writes the 'Timaru' (N.Z.) Herald of 2nd. ult.) is the 68th anniversary of the historical Eureka Stockade of Ballarat, and yesterday :a 'Herald' reporter called on Mr. John L. Potter, *'the oldest gold digger' and asked him to tell the story of the historical event that brought the great inform in the conditions cf the Ballarat gold-diggers. Mr. Potter gave a dramatic account of the battle royal which, tooks place in 1854 between the diggers and British troopers. 'Man,' he said, 'in those days the gold-digger was treated as if he were a criminal." Then Mr. Potter became enthusiastic, and the whole story, ever green in his memory — which, by the way, is remarkable — came out dramatically. He showed the reporter documents, pictures and parchments, direct ly connected with the famous occasion even down to his own 'miner's right' which, is still in a good state of preservation. 'Look you,' said the old miner, ' 'persecution to-day has little meaning compared with what it stood for in Ballarat in 1854. I have been through the 'whole thing, and I speak from actual experience. ' ' The 'Claim' Produced. He proudly produced his 'claim.' 'There,' he said, 'is the thing which, caused the whole trouble. A license to dig for gold cost a man 30/-, and woe betide the digger who could not produce his paper when demanded to do so by the troopers. Later the licence rose in price to £3. We usually wore high knee-boots, moleskin trousers, and a rough shirt. A miner would keep his licence in a pocket, and, very often, it would be lost or become utterly unrecognisable through being drenched with rain. 'When the troopers came along and a licence was not forthcoming, the miner was either fined £5 or chained to a tree for 12 hours as punishment. 'Gradually resentment grew among the men, and the warning word of 'Joe' (signifying that soldiers were approaching) became a tocsin of alarm. 'Mark you,' said Mr. Potter, 'we were determined to combat official tyranny, and one night decided in a body to burn our licences and swear never to take out another one. Our company, being composed of all nationalities, we could not fly the Union Jack, so we ran up a flag of our own — the Southern Cross. 'We built a stockade of slabs and stakes and determined to resist the troopers for all we were worth.' The narrator lost himself completely as he visualised the whole scene over again; he seemed to step back into the past and actually go through the great fight in 1854, 'The conflict took place on the morning of 3rd December,' continued the speaker. 'The soldiers with fixed bayonets and a pompous show of arms, attempted to over-awe us.' 'Man!' said Mr. Potter, 'such a fight then began. Our commander-in-chief, Peter Lalor, mounted on a stump and urged us on. He was shot and fell as he was giving his orders. But we were poorly armed, and could not hope to successfully combat a well-armed and disciplined force. 'Gradually the enemy captured the first stockade, and it was but an easy step to take possession of the inner enclosure. In the conflict, Captain Wise (of the 40th Regiment), five soldiers and 30 diggers were killed, and a large number were wounded; 125 miners were made prisoners. The £200 Reward. 'And then, on top of all this,' said Mr. Potter expressively, 'a reward of £200 was offered for Lalor and one of £500 for Verne (the supposed leader of the uprising) but they were never taken. " In the following March 13 men were tried at the Melbourne Law Courts; but out of 180 jurymen empanelled not one could be found to convict the men, and the rewards for the leaders were with drawn." Then, with a smile of satisfaction, the old digger said: 'Our cause was won. The gold-licence, in its objectionable form, was done away with and Parliamentary representation was secured. Lalor shortly afterwards became speaker in the Legislative Assembly of 'Victoria! In the robes of that high office his memory is perpetuated in a statue, mounted on a granite pedestal, has reliefs illustrating the stirring incidents which took place, and also the names of the 'outlaws' who died resisting tyrannical officialdom.' Mr. Potter is now 88 years of age, and he proudly said: 'I'm pretty sure that few people to-day, if any, can recall the Eureka Stockade and all that it stood for. I would dearly like to meet or hear from anyone connected with that great event.[1]

Post 1854 Experiences

It was recently stated that the last survivor of the Eureka Stockade battle had died in Brisbane. This is not correct. In Timaru (N.Z.) is living a white-haired old gentleman, John L. Potter by name, who claims to be the last survivor. Though nearly 100 years old, he has never worn glasses, has not lost a tooth, has never had a day’s illness, is still a busy builder and contractor, and never had a day’s illness, is still a busy builder and contractor, and never feels tired. He neither drinks nor smokes. His memory is still first rate, and he has a clear recollection of all the events that led up to the battle, in which he took part.
The revolt against official tyranny at Ballarat in 1854, as Mr Potter claims, did much to break down the military and official spirit that threatened the foundations of the democracy in this land. When gold was first discovered the Crown only allowed men to dig for it under the most stringent rules and regulations. Every man had to pay (2/6?) a week for his “Miner’s Right,” and then only had a claim eight feet square.
“As the diggers had no voice in the government of the country, the inevitable happened,” replied Mr Potter. One hundred thousand men gathered from all parts of the world were going to bludgeoned into tame submission by a few tyrannical officials. A leader was found in Peter Lalor, and under him the diggers were drilled and instructed in modes of attack and defence. But the authorities were alert, and before the miners could benefit much by training the crisis was precipitated. For the purpose of self-defence they hurriedly gathered logs, slabs, upturned carts, and anything they could lay hands on, and built a barricade o the Eureka lead. Here they burned the licences, and every man took a solemn oath never to buy another. All sorts of weapons had been commandeered, for which queer old receipts had been given.
“The engagement begun by sniping in the dark, and bush fights. The first victim was a little drummer boy - an unfortunate incident, which aroused the spirit of revenge in the troops.
“Information obtained by spies reached the troops that on the coming Saturday evening, December 2, 1854, most of the men would be at home in their tents, having about 200 in the stockade. Before daylight on December 3, the attack was made the military and police marching on the entrenched camp. In an hour it was all over, and at 4.30 a.m. Australia had had her first baptism of blood. Commander-in-Chief Peter Lalor leaped on to a stump to direct and cheer his men, and immediately received a shot in the arm. He fell, and his comrades covered him with slabs. The soldiers searched for him high and low, but he was safely hidden. :The reward of £200 for his arrest could not tempt one of those loyal-hearted fellows. Lalor lived to enter the Victorian Parliament, and became Speaker. His statue and memory are two of the most cherished possessions of Ballarat.
“Captain Wise, five soldiers, and 30 diggers were killed, a great number were wounded, and 125 diggers were taken prisoners. :Three months later thirteen of the diggers were put on trial for treason in Melbourne, but though 180 jurymen were empanelled, not one could be found to convict the men. The rewards of £200 for Lalor and £500 for Verne(sic) another leader, were withdrawn. Though the diggers were defeated in battle, their cause was won. The gold licence was modified. Parliamentary representation was granted, and Ballarat entered upon a new era of progress.[2]


The Sole Survivor.
Mr. John L. Potter, who a short time ago celebrated his ninety-seventh birthday at Timaru (New Zealand), can claim, without fear of challenge, that he is the only living survivor of the Eureka Stockade rebellion, which, as well-known history sets down, occurred on 3rd December, 1854— nearly 77 years ago. This remarkable old man tells an interesting story, including a first-hand account of the "revolution" referred to. He was born at Sunderland (England) in 1834, during the reign of King William IV. News of the great gold rush in Victoria inspired him with the spirit of adventure, and with a party of other young men he set sail from England, goldfields bound, duly arriving at the period when there was a frienzied invasion of such rich fields as Clunes,' Buninyong and Ballarat. Among his treasured possessions that go to prove his participation in those famous rushes are miner's rights and gold licences issued to him in 1854. Possessed of a clear recollection of the events that led up to the rebellion, he is able to recall the miners to a man burning their licences in contempt of the official decrees; up turning carts on the main road to Melbourne, and erecting barricades in pre paration for the battle royal that was to come on that Sunday morning of 3rd December. He has a vivid recollection of Peter Lalor, the hero of the uprising, and of other daring spirits who served as lieutenants. All have long since departed. Mr. Potter, indeed, remembers all the chief incidents connected with the historic rising Worthy of mention is the fact that he is tho oldest living gold miner in the British Empire; this calling took him to most ol the old Victorian fields and to others in New Zealand, where he has been domiciled in quiet content for years. Prior to his retirement only a few years ago, he had engaged in the building trade. Two or three years ago he forwarded to the mayor of Ballarat (of the Eureka Stockade memorial committee) a framed copy of his photograph,and this was unveiled proudly in a new memorial hall on the occasion of an anniversary celebration of the stockade affair; His minor's rights and gold licences were shown at the same time.. In a speech of appreciation, the mayor of the day referred to the aforementioned fact that Mr. Pottor was the lone survivor of the rebellion. His hair is snowy white, but the veteran is wonderfully well preserved (despite a hard life as a miner) and fairly active; his hearing is normal, his sight good for he reads without the aid of glasses, and his memory is unimpaired. Furthermore, Mr. Potter has never had a day's serious illness, nor has he over felt really tired; the still re tains his own teeth. Mr Potter neither drinks nor smokes, which may have something to do with his remarkably good state of health. Until a short time ago it was claimed on his behalf that he was tho oldest active cyclist in New Zealand; He used to take cycling constitutionals regularly as an exercise. A link with this interesting veteran in Victoria is Mrs. Pascoe, of Eltham, who is a niece. It is wonderful to know, whilst looking back through, the dim avenue of time, dating back to the hectic (and yet romantic;) days of the gold rushes in Victoria, that one lone survivor of Australia's only civil war is still alive, fit and well, and able to recall the historic affair. May Mr. Potter attain his century. If hale enough, it might, be possible to prevail upon him to attend the centenary of Victoria celebrations when they are held.[3]

Sir, — I was wonderfully interested in an account in Thursday's Herald given by Mr. John Lishman Potter, of Timaru, oh his 95th birthday of the Eureka Stockade. I could verify every word, as 1, too, witnessed the fight 1 was living on the Black Hill when the stockade was limit, and on the Sunday morning of the fight I heard the shots and saw (he carts conveying the dead and wounded to the Government camp on Soldiers' Hill. I saw the miners burning their licences on Pennyweight Flat, which was the cause of the trouble, Helen Yule Dewah.[4]



{{LAST EUREKA STOCKADE MAN. (Special to "The Guardian.") TIMARU, This Day. The last survivor of the "battle of the Eureka Stockade," and the 'second oldest resident of South Canterbury, Mr John L. Potter, of LeCren Street, died on Saturday evening, at the age of 97. Mr Potter contracted influenza a week ago, pneumonia supervening later with fatal results. A native of Durham, Mr Potter was born on July 25, 1834, during the reign of William IV., and as a young man was attracted to Victoria by the lure of gold. With hundreds of others he trekked to Ballarat, where he secured "miner's right, No. 16," thus being among the earliest to obtain a license. This historical document, together with many other momentoes of early mining days, Mr Potter preserved, and he claimed to be the only surviving holder of the Victorian miner's right in the Empire. He was one of the insurgents on the occasion of the battle of the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat, when the miners,, disgusted with the harsh treatment meted out to them by the authorities, erected a fort and defied the military. The undisciplined and ill-armed miners, led by "General" Peter Lalor, were beaten in the unequal struggle that followed, the defenders fleeing for their lives. But, although, the battle was lost, the causes of their grievances were abolished, and the men received representation.

After the. fight Mr Potter left Victoria, and, coming to New Zealand, took part in the Gabriel's Gully rush. Tiring of the gold search, Mr Potter resumed his former calling "of a builder, and settled in Timaru, where he worked for many years. Wonderfully alert for his years, Mr Potter retained all his faculties to the end. He leaves an adult family.[5]

See also

Further Reading

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


  1. Geraldton Guardian, 25 January 1923.
  2. Melbourne Herald, 9 February 1924.
  3. The Age, 19 September 1931.

External links