On 3 December 1854 the gold miners (diggers) at Eureka (Ballarat, Victoria) rose up against the Colonial authority of the United Kingdom. This rebellion is said to be the basis for our democracy today in Australia. The ANZAC soldiers of World War 1 adopted the term ‘digger’ to honour the gold miners’ comradeship at Eureka. This year is the centenary of World War 1.
The uprising by the miners against the constabulary was sparked by an article in the newspaper announcing the discovery of gold by Thomas Hiscock 10 miles from Eureka. The date was 12 August 1851 and just days later Lieutenant Governor Latrobe proclaimed in the Government Gazette crown rights for all mining proceeds and a license fee of 30 shillings per month effective 1 September 1851. The miners opposed the government policies of oppression including the licence fee and demanded rights to vote and buy land. They also opposed the strict liquor licensing laws. In December the government announced that it intended to triple the license fee from £1 to £3 a month, effective January 1852. This announcement incited the miners and there were many protests around the colony. When the miners started to gather arms the government rescinded its plans.
The Goldfield Act 1853 allowed the authorities to search the “diggers” to check for payment of their licenses. These searches were stepped up to twice weekly. The bottom line was that if the diggers were not lucky enough to find gold then they could not pay for their license. A number of other injustices occurred in 1854 which agitated the miners of Eureka and as they say the rest is history.
In November 1854 the miners formed a “Digger’s Rights Society” to protect their rights. The first meeting attracted 3,000 miners. Just ten days later the crowd increased to 10,000 and the “Ballarat Reform League” was born. The meeting passed a resolution “that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny”. The meeting resolved that they should withdraw from the United Kingdom if the situation did not improve. Their cries of dissatisfaction were ignored and the police presence was increased by recruits from Melbourne.
The next day there was a meeting of around 12,000 and the “Ballarat Reform League” announced that negotiations with the authorities had broken down and there could be no resolution. Later that month a license search was performed and eight defaulters were arrested and this prompted a change in attitude and that was to fight rather than passively talk with the authorities. To this aim, an Irishman by the name of Peter Lalor was elected to lead the Reform League.
With Peter Lalor in charge, the Eureka Stockade was born. The Stockade was a structure which was designed to keep the “diggers” together rather than the soldiers out. The diggers burned their licenses and on 1 December 1854 at Bakery Hill, the miners held a meeting and the Australian flag of independence was consecrated and the crowd vowed to defend it. Peter Lalor, together with the miners, swore the Eureka oath – “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” The white and blue Eureka Flag bore nothing more than the Southern Cross. As a gesture of defiance, they deliberately excluded the British Union Flax which is included in the official flag of Australia. The Eureka flag was also known as the “digger’s flag” as well as the “Southern Cross”. Early in the morning of Sunday 3 December 1854, the authorities launched an attack on the stockade. The diggers were outnumbered and the battle was over in twenty minutes. Twenty-two diggers and five troops were killed. The Southern Cross flag was pulled from the flagpole and souvenirs by the victors. Peter Lalor escaped the scene even though his arm had been badly injured (later requiring amputation).
Between 1851 and 1860, an estimated 300,000 people came to Australian colonies from England and Wales, with another 100,000 from Scotland and 84,000 from Ireland. Gold seekers from Germany, Italy and North America also made the journey to Australia in search of gold. Just over 5,000 people from New Zealand and other South Pacific nations, and at least 42,000 people from China, also arrived in Australia during the 1850s gold rushes. During this period, the colony of Victoria received 60% of all immigrants to Australia. (Australian Government).
Mark Twain visited the Victorian Goldfields in 1895. Following his visit, he said of the Eureka Stockade: ”By and by there was a result, and I think it may be called the finest thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution – small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression…It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. It adds an honorable page to history; the people know it and are proud of it. They keep green the memory of the men who fell at the Eureka stockade, and Peter Lalor has his monument”. Mark Twain
EUREKA – I’ve got it!!
“Eureka, I’ve got it” is often said when a problem cannot be understood but is solved at a later date. It is like a light bulb going off and all of a sudden you have the answer to that problem.
This has nothing to do with the Eureka Stockade. You don’t arm yourself with a gun and threaten to shoot someone if you don’t get the problem solved.
This phenomenon is attributed to Archimedes. During a visit to the public baths, he noticed that water was displaced when his body sank into the bath. The volume of water displaced equaled the volume of the body. He ran from the bathhouse naked and shouting “Eureka, I’ve found it”.