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'.
•Australia was governed by Britain, but in July Port Phillip was declared a colony separate from New South Wales, and its name was changed to Victoria.
• Big gold finds in New South Wales in February and Victoria in July marked the start of the Australian gold rush.
•Large numbers of people rushed to Australia to seek their fortune, so the population increased very rapidly.
Anger and discontent on the goldfields: background to the rebellion
In 1851 the new colony of Victoria had less than 50 soldiers and a few police. The gold rush meant that more police had to be quickly recruited. Many of these were ex-convicts or prison guards, and were very unsatisfactory as policemen.
Each goldfield was run by a highly paid Gold Commissioner and his assistant, a police inspector, troopers (mounted police), police on foot (called traps, paid less than troopers) and Aboriginal Police (paid about half what traps were paid per day).
Because so many men left their jobs to go to the goldfields, there were very few men left to work in various trades and jobs in the towns. The government wanted to limit the number of people who left their jobs to search for gold, so it 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 and licences were checked twice a week. Those found without a licence and who could not pay for one were locked up. This meant the police were 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 violence by the police.
The miners became more and more angry about the licence system and about police brutality. They held meetings and protests to express their anger, but the system did not change.
Many of the police were dishonest, and would ignore crimes committed by their friends or people who gave them money (bribes). This is called police corruption.
The events leading up to the Stockade
In Ballarat the situation became critical when a man known to be friends with police was charged with the murder of a miner, but the charges were dropped without a court trial. The miners' anger erupted, and a mob burned down Bentley's Hotel, where the murder had taken place. Three of them were arrested for arson (setting a fire on purpose). The Commissioner sent for extra soldiers as the anger reached boiling point.
On 11th November 1854, about 10,000 diggers met to demand that:
• the three miners be released and pardoned,
• the licence system be dropped,
• every man should be allowed to vote (rather than only licenced miners who had lived in that location for six months).
The Governor refused to pardon the three miners, and the anger reached a peak.
At a second mass meeting, on 29th November, the miners 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, 30th November, there was another mass burning of licences by a gathering on Bakery Hill. Peter Lalor led the miners 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.
Results of the Eureka Stockade
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 the vote to any licenced miner. 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.
Three years later, all men in Victoria were allowed to vote.
Why is the Eureka Stockade considered to be an important event that affected our history?
See a video about some schoolchildren who found out about it
See the uniforms of the police and soldiers at the Ballarat goldfields, the sort of clothing the miners wore, and to see a map of the attack on the Eureka Stockade:
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 (2000).
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