Rebellion: The Eureka Stockade
Eureka ( say yoo-ree-kuh) means 'I have found it!', and is used as an exclamation of triumph .
A very rich seam, or lead (say leed) of gold in part of the Ballarat goldfields was called the 'Eureka Lead'.
Causes of anger on the goldfields
In 1851 there were less than 50 soldiers and a few police in Victoria. The gold rush meant that more police had to be quickly recruited. Most were unsatisfactory, many being ex convicts or guards.
Each goldfield was run by a Gold Commissioner (paid 500 pounds a year) and his assistant, a police inspector, troopers (mounted police paid 3 shillings a day), police on foot (called traps, paid 2 shillings and ninepence per day) and Aboriginal Police (paid 1 shilling and a halfpenny per day).
The gold rush had left very few men available to work in various trades and jobs because they went to seek their fortune on the goldfields. To try and limit the number of people who left their jobs to search for gold, the government made people buy a licence to mine. The system of licences caused great trouble at all the goldfields. Miners had to pay a fee of 30 shillings each month to renew the licence, whether or not they had found gold. They had to carry their licence at all times because licences were checked twice a week. Police were kept so busy checking licences and collecting fees that they had little time to fight crime and keep order. Bushrangers roamed the countryside, holding up travellers and robbing them, and at the diggings there was burglary, claim-jumping (taking over someone's claim), and violence, including police actions.
The miners became more and more angry about the licence system and the police brutality. They held meetings and protests to express their anger, but the system did not change.
Many of the police were dishonest crooks, and would ignore crimes committed by friends or people who gave them money (bribes). This is called police corruption. In Ballarat the miners' anger was increased when a man known to be friendly with police was charged with the murder of a miner, only to have the charges dropped so he escaped a court trial and punishment. The anger erupted, and a mob of diggers burned down Bentley's Hotel, where the murder had taken place. Three were arrested for arson (setting a fire on purpose), and extra soldiers were sent for as the anger reached boiling point.
The Eureka flag is flown
On 11th November 1854, about 10,000 diggers met to demand the three miners be released and pardoned, to demand the licence system be dropped and that all males should be allowed to vote because in those days the right to vote was restricted: only licenced miners who had lived in that location for six months could vote. The Governor refused to pardon them, and the diggers' fury reached a peak. At a second mass meeting, on 29th November, they displayed their flag, the Eureka flag, blue with a white cross and 5 stars representing the Southern Cross. They publicly burned their licences and elected leaders.
The Eureka flag is thought to have been designed by a Canadian miner whose surname was Ross. The stars represent the Southern Cross and the white cross is a symbol of unity... signifying unity under the Southern Cross. The original is on display in a Ballarat museum.
The Stockade is built
The next day, there was another mass burning of licences at a meeting on Bakery Hill. Peter Lalor led the diggers to the Eureka diggings, which had been named after a deep seam of gold which was called the 'Eureka lead'. Here they built a fort, which they named the Eureka Stockade. It was a wooden barricade circling about a acre of land. Inside the barricade, about 1000 rebels swore an oath under the Eureka flag and prepared to fight. However, over the next couple of nights, a number of them slipped away, aware of the hopelessness of the situation.
The Attack on the Eureka Stockade
In the early hours of Sunday, 3rd December , several hundred soldiers and police attacked the stockade. Reports about the number of government troops vary, but they outnumbered the diggers, and were better equipped. There were only about 200 or so miners left inside the Stockade, and they were quickly defeated. The battle lasted just 20 minutes. Numbers vary, but about twenty two diggers and five soldiers were killed. One of their leaders, Peter Lalor, was badly wounded and went into hiding. Thirteen miners were charged with treason (a crime against a monarch or a government), for which they could be hanged if found guilty. However, they were all acquitted at their trial and set free.
A few months later, in March 1855, a Commission which had investigated the situation gave its report to the government. Everything the Commission recommended was done, and all the diggers' demands were met. A law was passed to allow any digger who had a licence to vote. The licence now cost one pound a year, instead of 8 pounds for a year. The powerful (and hated) position of Gold Commissioner was replaced by a system of wardens.
In 1855, the Ballarat miners had eight representatives in the Victorian Government. Peter Lalor was elected as one of those. Today there is a Melbourne suburb called Lalor, named after Peter Lalor.
More information here
Go here to see an online image of the soldiers and the diggers at the attack on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.egold.net.au/objects/DEG000090.htm
If you use any part of this in your own work, acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. Rebellion: The Eureka Stockade [Online] www.kidcyber.com.au (2012).
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