S.J. Lawrence

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THR EUREKA RIOTS. The fol!owing "Reminiscences of the 'Early 'Goldfields," by Mr S. J. Lawrence, of Wangaratta, will, no doubt, prove interesting reading: Mr Lawrence is a colonist of 69 years and witnessed many of the stirring occurances in the early days at lBallerat and other gold fields, including the Eureka riots. As a lad with his father, he was among the first arrivals at Ballarat. Diggers licenses were issued at 30s per month, and this price Was considered so high by the men that they expressed dissatisfaction. The sizes of the claims as allowed, by the regulations were:: One man, 8 feet square ; two men, 8 by 12 feet; three men, 8 by 16 feet; four men, 16 by 16 feet; and eight men, 24 by 24 feet, the last mentioned being the maximum. The diggers were subjected to many insults and cruelties in the collection of the fees, and were in many instances chained to logs it they could not produce their licenses. On many occasions they were unable to preduce their licenses-sometimes when changing their clothes after working in deep sinkings they would leave them in their pockets and they were consequently taken off to prison for digging without a license. With reference to the murder of Scobie and the burning of Bentley's Eureka Hotel, Scobie and Bentley had been drinking together and they had a difference. Scobie left the hotel but returned, and finding the place closed he kicked at the door. Bentley rushed out through the back, and seizing a spade went after Scoble, anid overtaking him cut him down with the implement. Bentley was 'tried' for murder, and was acquitted. This incensed the feelings of the diggers, and they gathered in great force in front of Bentley's hotel, but Bentley seeing that trouble was brewing escaped by a back door and mounting a horse rode to the police quarters. The indignation of the crowd, at seeing him gallop off, was intense and the hotel was fired and allowed to burn to the ground. The corruption of the Government officials in endeavoring to screen Bentley, and the burning df the Eureka hotel, left an impres sion on the diggers' minds which led to reforms. So little confidence hail the dig gers in the administration of justice that they actually formed a committee to prose cute the murderer of Scobie, and Bentley was on a second trial sentenced to 2 years imprisonment. Three persons were ar rested for the burning of the hotel, but a committee was organised by the diggers to defend them. The prisoners were sent to gaol for different terms. In November, 1854, a public meeting was held and the dig. gers burned their licences and resolved to take out no more. Next day the police and military went out looking for licences, and a digger, who had burnt his, was running away, when he was shot down. The news spread quickly, and the cry of 'to arms" was heard. Meetings were held, and on the lst December, 1500 men met on Bakery Hill. The man marched to Eureka, and later on arms were procured. They met in the ens closure, ready and willing to use their arms in defence of their rights. Government spies were now mixing with the volunteers and betraying their movements. At mid night only 120 men were in the enclosure. At 3 a.m. on Sunday, 3rd December, these men were attacked by the Military. About 70 diggers had guns. 30 had pistols and 20 had picks. The odds were three to one against them, but the diggers did their duty, "Fourteen of them were killed and 8 others mortally wounded, amongst, them being Peter Lalor, who lost his arm. Mr Lawrence then goes on to describe in more detail the scenes after the battle, and concludes by saying that from the blood shed in defence of the diggers' rights at Eureka sprang the emanciaption of the diggers from the despotism of the powers then existing, and the young Australians were now reaping the benefit.[1]


Mr. S. J. Lawrence, who came to Australia with his parents in 1848 when twelve years of age, died at a private hospital in Wangaratta on Sunday from an internal complaint, from which he had been sufferlng for twelve mouths. He went to Ballarat at the outbreak of thoe gold diggings, and wittnessed the Eureka riots. He entered upon farming pursuits at Whitfield 25 years ago, but for the last 20 years he has been living a retired life, principally with his son, Mr. S. C. Lawrence.[2]

Also See



  1. The North Eastern Ensign, 06 September 1907.
  2. Benalla Standard, 30 July 1920.