Goldfields Involvement, 1853-1854
Nanken Thornhill signed the 1853 Bendigo Goldfields Petition. Agitation of the Victorian goldfields started with the Forest Creek Monster Meeting in 1851, but what became known as the Red Ribbon Movement was centred around the Bendigo goldfields in 1853. The Anti-Gold License Association was formed at Bendigo in June 1853, led by George Thomson, Dr D.G. Jones and 'Captain' Edward Browne. The association focused its attention on the 30 shillings monthly licence fee miners were required to pay to the government. They drew up a petition outlining digger grievances and called for a reduced licence fee, improved law and order, the right to vote and the right to buy land. The petition was signed by diggers at Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine, McIvor (Heathcote), Mount Alexander (Harcourt) and other diggings. The 13 metre long petition was presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe in Melbourne on the 01 August 1853, but their call for a reduction in monthly licence fees and land reform for diggers was rejected. The diggers dissatisfaction erupted into the Red Ribbon Rebellion where agitators wore red ribbons on their hats symbolising their defiance of the law and prohibitive licence fees.
- REDUCTION OF THE LICENSE-FEE.
- Castlemaine, 22nd July, 1853.
- Agreeable to notice, a public meeting was convened on Agitation Hill, Castlemaine, on Friday the 22nd July, at ten o'clock, a.m. In consequence of the placards containing the above notice, which were posted about the diggings on the previous afternoon, having been, almost without exception, torn down from their respective places, by some malicious person or persons, the notice of the meeting was not generally given. At the appointed hour some twenty or thirty individuals had assembled, but messengers being sent round with bells to announce the meeting at eleven o'clock, some two or three hundred people were present, and at the close the numbers had augmented to about five hundred. On the dray were the three delegates from Bendigo — Messrs. Jones, Brown, and Thomson, Mr. Hitchcock, and the Rev. Mr. Jackson.
- Proposed by Capt. BROWN, seconded by Mr. Jones, and carried unanimously, that Mr. N. Thornhill take the chair.
- The CHAIRMAN opened the meeting by commenting upon the late police proceedings against the two People's Commissioners, and the consequent drawback on the part of the Castlemaine committee, in obtaining signatures for the petition. He (the speaker) said that the present meeting was called to give a finishing stroke to the petition, as the delegates from the Bendigo, (introducing Captain Brown, Mr. Thomson, and Dr. Jones,) were on their way to Melbourne, to present the petition to His Excellency the Governor. The petition from the Bendigo was a monster one, being forty feet long, and very neatly got up, on a strip of calico, containing seven thousand signatures. As their present object was to get all the signatures possible in a short time, they would first hear the speakers, and afterwards the petition should be opened and read to them for the information of all those who were not already aware of its purport. The first speaker he would introduce to them would be Dr. D.G. Jones, one of the deputation from the Bendigo.
- D.G. Jones, Esq., surgeon, then rose to address the meeting, and was recoiled with cheers. He said he was sorry to see such a small number around him. The delegates arrived at Castlemaine yesterday afternoon, and finding that no steps had been taken by the committee at Castlemaine in carrying out their instructions, owing to their continual attendance at the police office, since the holding of the last meeting, they proceeded to take steps for calling the present meeting, and had accordingly had placards posted about the diggings on the previous evening; but what was their surprise to find this morning that some malicious person or persons had carefully torn down every one of those posters, (Cries of Shame.) Whoever had done so were no friends to the cause. They had their enemies at Castlemaine. The meetings held at Bendigo were attended by not hundreds, nor thousands, but tens of thousands and the petition which they had brought down was signed by some seven thousand men, chiefly diggers and storekeepers. This was not a quarter of the number of signatures which could have boen obtained at Bendigo, had sufficient time been allowed. If Balaarat and the Ovens gold-fields had joined Bendigo, M'Ivor, and Forest Creek, and time been allowed, no doubt the number of signatures would have amounted to eighty or a hundred thousand. The spirit evinced at Bendigo throughout the agitation speaks plainly for itself, that the digging population will have their rights. (Hear, hear, and cheers). As far as his (the speaker's) opinion goes this next license will be the last paid under the thirty shillings regulation; at the same time they are most anxious to have the matter settled amicably with the Government. (Hear, hear.) He hoped the Governor would meet their petition in a satisfactory manner, or else the best interests of the colony would be at stake. He called upon all those in the assembly who have not already attached their names to the petition to come forward and do so without delay. The speaker sat down amidst loud cheers.
- The Chairman then rose and called upon Mr. Wm. Hitchcock, to address the meeting.
- Mr. William Hitchcock was received with hearty cheers. He said he would not detain the meeting with a long speech, but to begin he would make an attack upon the camp. (Laughter.) If there was any man in the assembly that had the interests of the camp at heart, he would call upon him to retire, for he would not be spared. (Laughter.) He would call upon the meeting to witness that all throughout the agitation of this movement he was in favor of using moral force to gain the battle. The anti-corn-law movement was accomplished by moral force. He was a soldier, and fought many battles in behalf of that movement, and was thoroughly satisfied that nothing could be done by any other than moral force. If they could convince the Government of the necessity of the step, they would have the licenses reduced. He (the speaker) would go the whole hog, and allocate the total aboli-tion of the license-tax. No man ought to be taxed for his work. He was warm in the cause, and more detemined to stand by them than ever. He had arrived at a period of life when he was capable of discerning, and he had fixed his mind that so long as God spared his life, that life should be devoted to his country's cause. (Cheering.) What little he was worth, so long as it should last, was at his country's disposal. He was just going to the camp to hand in to the bank a subscription of a hundred guineas in aid of a testimonial to the Rev. Mr. Jackson. (Cheers.) He would make no allusion to the late prosecutions of Mr. Jackson and himself, for it was a trumped up affair to quiet them, but he (the speaker) was determined that no govemment should control his thoughts, and he would make bold to say so. (Hear, hear.) They had no local press on these diggings, and he was determined that this deficiency should last no longer. He did not intend that this press should be in opposition to the Argus, but merely to advocate the rights of the people, put down the tyrannical system of government, and facilitate the proceedings on the part of the people. The expense and delay attendant on the calling of public meetings is also another con-sideration in favor of a local press. He would take immediate steps for the establishment of a press on these diggings. (Great cheering.) He was determined to come amongst them on this occasion, if it was merely to show a deter-mination that he would not be cowed. (Cheers.)
- The Chairman then rose to call upon Mr. Thomson, one of the delegates, to address the meeting.
- Mr. THOMSON said since they (the delegates) were at the last meeting at Castlemaine, they had held several meetings at Bendigo. A monster meeting was held on Saturday last, at which 15,000 men were assembled. Although they had received the co-operation of the M'Ivor and Forest Creek, no doubt, when the reports of their movements reached Balaarat and the Ovens, they (the Bendigo diggers) would receive their co-operation also. (Hear hear.) Various reports were current from time to time as to their proceedings at the Bendigo, one of the most recent being that the American flag was hoisted over the British. In fact, he now held a document in his hand. The truth of which was vouched for by one of the gentlemen at the camp, and which was to the effect that the American flag was hoisted above the British, and that placards were posted about calling upon the diggers to attend the inciting, and not forgot to bring their revolvers. (Laughter.) As to the placards, he was not aware that any such thing was posted about; revolvers were not dreamt of. The report of the American flag being hoisted above the British, must have originated from the fact of the flags of various nations of the various people attending the meeting being carried in the procession. Some allusion had been made to accomplish our purpose by means of moral force. Moral force was to allow the weaker part to be the bully. A man who is confident of what he can do, will keep in abeyance; a man who talks of fighting is gene-rally found to be the very one who would rather keep from doing so. This doctrine will be of no use at the Bendigo. (Hear, hear.) If the Government will listen to reason before it is too late, then they could make known their greivances through the public press. (Hear, hear.) He had something in the back-ground which he would give them as an illustration of moral force. Where would be the moral force, if a policeman came up and arrested any one of them in the Queen's name, and in case of refusal, to bring the bayonet or bludgeon to bear upon them? Who heard of moral force carrying the day against tens of thousands of men, armed and ready! He would advise them to take no notice of any rumors they may hear of fighting; for they did not intend fighting, from the fact that there was nothing to fight against. (Cheers.) They felt quite satisfied on that point. A certain gentleman at Castlemaine had boldly declared that if he was allowed to pick out the troopers, with a horse-whip each, he should thrash the whole of the diggers at Bendigo. All the forces in all the colonies could not grapple with the digging population if they had sufficient cause (Hear, hear.) As to the reports which had reached Forest Creek that the American flag was hoisted over the British at the Bendigo, he would rather, for his part, be under the British rule before any nation in the world, and next to that he should claim America, as there was much or a similarity between the two countries. They may rest assured that if any flag was hoisted on the Bendigo in preference to the British, it should not be the American: they would have a flag of their own. (Hear, hear.) If they should ever hear that a newly-invented flag was fluttering at the mast-head at Bendigo, they might rest assured that that flag should stay there. (Hear, hear, and cheers.) They were content to remain a colony so long as the Govern-ment treated them as became the Government of a British colony. (Hear, hear.) They would not tolerate abuse and dog-like treatment. The mal-administrators of the law were those that injured the Government. Those were the greatest enemies to the Government.
- (Hear, hear.) They must have equal rights and equal laws, or otherwise the Government would not stand four and twenty hours. He would have them take no notice of any reports they might hear of the movements at the Bendigo, unless authenticated by notices from the committee at that place, as they should be made aware at the earliest opportunity of His Excellency's answer, and their future movements. (Cheers.)
- The Chairman next called upon the Rev. Mr. Jackson to address the meeting. Mr. JACKSON, on rising, was received with cheers. He said he addressed them as friends, having the one common interest at heart. They were all aware that after the holding of the last meeting, himself and Mr. Hitchcock were arrested under warrant, on a charge of assault; and after enduring a night in the watchhouse, with a guard of two constables, for fear of his making his escape, he now stood committed to take his trial on a charge of assault, at the next Court of Quarter Sessions, which would be held on the 22nd of September next, although nineteen witnesses were heard on the trial, six for the complaint, and thirteen for the defence, and the evidence of the whole of those witnesses was to the effect that no assault had been committed. (Shame.) They were all aware of what had become of Captain Harrison, after the active part he had taken in the £3-license movement. Another young man, who had been residing on Campbell's Creek, was also silently walked down to Melbourne, and there let loose with a strict injunction not to proceed to the gold-fields any more, as no license should be granted him. (Shame, shame.) These were two individuals who had already felt the displeasure of the Government for taking active parts in public movements, and he was the third. He was a marked man, and all his friends were marked. The great question to decide was, whether they would be trampled upon or not. (Hear, hear.) He was in favor of the reduction of the license, and would heartily co-operate with Bendigo in the movement. For the present, they would ask for the license-fee to be reduced. A certain little lawyer, belonging to Castlemaine, had made his blasts that with five picked men, and a horse-whip each, he would clear the Bendigo. (Groans.) He took as much notice or this as he did of the man himself. (Hear, hear.) He (the speaker) was always ready to stand up in the public cause, and would maintain their rights to the last. He would conclude, by calling upon all those who had not already signed the petition to come forward and do so. (Cheers.)
- The Chairman next called upon Captain Brown, one of the delegates, to address the meeting. Captain BROWN who was loudly cheered spoke at some length in his usual eloquent and witty style, strongly urging the meeting to work the cause in a systematic manner, and called upon those who had not signed the petition to do so immediately. After which, Mr. Baker and Mr. Murphy also addressed the meeting.
- The Chairman then called upon Dr. Jones to read the petition.
- The monster petition was then read, and exhibited at full length on the grass.
- The Chairman having again called upon all those who had not signed the petition to come forward and do so.
- A vote of thanks was passed to the Chairman, and the meeting dissolved.
Post 1854 Experiences
- The Argus, 28 July 1853.
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