Goldfields Involvement, 1854
- THE BALLARAT RIOT.
- To the Editor.
- Sir—: as an eye-witness of many of the scenes which took place during the time of the Ballarat riot, I naturally feel interested in the relations which have appeared in your columns. Your correspondent, Mr. A. Dungey's, account is very interesting, but there is one error of date, the digger who met his death by the blow of a weapon (I think a spade) was not killed on the night before the fight, but some months prior to it. The sad event happened thus. Calling late at night at Bentley's Hotel and, according to accounts, breaking a window in and arousing the landlord, he was followed when on his road to his tent and struck, the blow killing him. The landlord was suspected and the case partly investigated, but as file diggers thought appearances pointed to a 'hush-up ' a monster meeting was held close to the hotel, and despite the presence of the soldiers, who occupied the hotel at the time, the place was burnt to the ground, Bentley and the troops having to fly for their lives. Bentley. I believe, afterwards received two years' imprisonment for the manslaughter of the digger. Several of the ringleaders were arrested, but the people rose almost en masse and demanded their release. Soon after this the diggers refused to pay the exorbitant charge of 30s. a month for the right to dig for gold. Then followed open revolt, partly brought about by high-handed officialism and bad administration. Meetings were held, men drilled, all business was suspended, and the authorities proclaimed martial law. Peter Lalor was no doubt one of the leading spirits of the movement, but he was not so publicly prominent as Vern, a 'handsome Hungarian, about 6 ft. 2 in. in height, well made, of soldiery bearing, who always at drill wore a dragoon sword. Gill, who, I believe, was an American, was another prominent leader, but was absent from the stockade on the morning of the attack, having gone towards Melbourne, ostensibly to intercept rein forcements. The stockade, which enclosed stores, tents, and holes from 100 to 200 ft. deep, together with large heaps of wash dirt and mullock, was built of slabs of wood, and was 6 ft. or more in height. This defence. which lay about two miles from the military headquarters, might have been of some service had the picketing been kept up all sight as it was in the early part. Still, the diggers must have eventually been defeated, as they were so wretchedly armed, all and any sort of weapons being eagerly sought after; certainly no match for the well-equipped foot and horse of the 'Regulars.' One of the principal weapons was the pike, and the local blacksmiths were kept busy making them. The purpose of this weapon was to resist the charge of cavalry, and it consisted of a spear and hook combined fixed on the end of a pole. It was however, not called into use, as the military attacked the stockade just at dawn on Sunday morning, December 3, and in about half an hour the 'red-coats' had won the skirmish, killing about 30 diggers and themselves losing their captain and two privates. The scene of the conflict an hour afterwards presented a horrid ap pearance: 18 diggers lay dead upon the ground, whilst others were busy carrying wounded mates off the field. One poor fellow had both his legs roasted up to the knee, these injuries probably being caused by the troopers firing the tents. Some verses written by a young lady had in them these lines: — There go the troopers who slaughtered our men When fight and resistance were o'er; They hovered around like wolves on the plain Which had scented the carnage and gore. In a tent, all bleeding, a wounded man lay; Had pity been there it were given. No pity was there — 'Fire the tent!' cried they. And his soul through the flames went to Heaven. Then there were a horse and a dog shot, and one of the stores was riddled with bullets. Tom, the Hanoverian, the principal maker of the pikes, lingered all day from a sabre cut, which had opened his head, his brains being kept in with a cloth. Of the two principal figures, the one in the council. Lalor, the other in the field, Vern, much was not known that day. Whether Vern was present when the attack took place is not certain. But Lalor was wounded, and when insisted off the field to a countryman's tent was very pale from loss of blood. Altogether 'twas a bad business, and a pity that reform had to come at the price of blood. — I am. &c., T. E. R. SELPIE.
Post 1854 Experiences
- ↑ Adelaide Advertiser, 01 April 1899.