An Australia guided by the spirit of the Eureka Tradition as symbolised by the diggers' flag and oath:
"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties"

Notes for the 150th anniversary of Eureka Stockade ... Bob Walshe

I. The Gold Discoveries of the 1850s
Edward Hargraves is credited with starting the great Australian goldrushes of the "Golden Fifties". In February 1851, he discovered gold near Bathurst. The Sydney Morning Herald, 3/6/1851, reported: "The diggings commence at the junction of Lewis' Ponds with the Summerhill Creek, and have extended more or less to the confluence of the Summerhill Creek with the Macquarie River, a distance of about 16 miles". Hargraves had just returned from a goldrush in California. But he was not the first to find gold here.

Earlier Discoveries. In 1823 a surveyor and a convict each found gold near Bathurst. It was also found by the explorer-scientist Count Strzelecki in 1839, by Rev. W.B. Clarke in 1841, and by others. Nothing was done to investigate and develop these discoveries because the Government feared that the convicts would break loose, or that the growth of the sheep industry would suffer. However, when thousands of Australian workers left for California in 1849 and 1850, the Government became alarmed and was ready to welcome a discovery in Australia which would bring a rush of workers to this country.

Victoria had only been separated from New South Wales in 1851. Very shortly after, gold was discovered at Ballarat, Bendigo and other places. These goldfields proved much richer than those in New South Wales - or in California.

The Goldrush. Men who were in Australia had the advantage over gold seekers who came from Europe, because it took three months for news to reach Europe and another three months (by sailing ship) to travel to Australia. Large numbers of diggers began to arrive from Europe and America in mid.1852. So great were their numbers that the population of Australian almost trebled in 10 years. As soon as gold seekers arrived in Melbourne or Sydney, they would buy their digging tools and set off into the bush to find the goldfields.

The Diggers. Usually, they wore heavy boots, moleskin trousers, a blue or red shirt, and a cabbage tree hat. Sturdy, independent, freedom-loving men, many were supportive of the radical uprisings of 1848 in Europe to free their countries from aristocratic tyranny. There were English and Scottish Chartists, Irish rebels, Italian and German nationalists, French democrats, Swedes, Poles, Russians, and also Chinese, Canadians and Americans. Only a few "struck it lucky"; most found only enough gold to provide for their needs, and were later forced to go back to working for wages.

Diggers' Grievances. The Governments of Victoria and NSW were the preserve mainly of the British Governor and the squatters. Neither showed much consideration for the diggers. The diggers had no vote and no representatives in Parliament; if they wanted to settle down as farmers, they found the land was in the hands of the squatters; and, most irritating of all, the Government taxed them heavily, making it compulsory for every digger to pay 30 shillings a month for a lisence, whether gold was found or not. A hated police rode around on øDigger Hunts", checking to see if the diggers had bought their lisences.

II. The Eureka Stockade
Diggers' appeals rejected. Though the diggers asked often and politely that their grievances be remedied, the Governor and squatters did nothing. In December 1851, Victorian Governor, Sir Charles La Trobe announced that he would double the licence, but the diggers threatened force and the move was defeated. In 1853, the Bendigo diggers again addressed La Trobe strongly and he had to reduce the lisence to £2 for 3 months. This quietened the goldfields... until a new Governor arrived.

Governor Sir Charles Hotbam. He landed in Melbourne in August 1854. In September, he declared the diggers were not taking out licences, and ordered digger-hunting to increase from once-a-month to twice-a-week. This was an irritation to all the diggers; moreover the police were often crude and harsh. Hotham wanted to solve many of the financial troubles of Victoria at the diggers' expense, but opponents alleged that Government officers were corrupt.

Murder. On 6 October 1854, near midnight, a popular Scottish digger, James Scobie, was murdered outside the Eureka Hotel at Ballarat. The diggers know that James Bentley, an ex-convict who owned the Hotel, was the murderer, but Magistrate J.D'Ewes, who owed Bentley money, set him free. This confirmed the Ballarat diggers in their belief that Government officers were corrupt.

Hotel Burnt. The diggers in thousands held a protest meeting outside the hotel on October 17th, someone unknown set fire to it and it was burnt down. Hotham was furious, ordered arrests to be made, and three innocent men were seized at random as "ring-leaders".

Revolt. Hotham refused a demand by the diggers to release the three men. Angry diggers held a meeting of 12,000 on Bakery Hill on November 30th and detailed their grievances about the three prisoners, the licences, the digger-hunts, the right to vote, and the desire for land. The very next day, Hotham sent out another "digger-hunt". The police and military shot at diggers who were trying to escape the hunt. Infuriated, many diggers decided to take up arms in self defence.

The Stockade. Under a spectacular new Southern Cross flag the diggers knelt and vowed: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties." Their leader was a young Irishman, Peter Lalor. On the Eureka diggings they built a stockade from timber slabs, earth, and overturned carts. It covered more than an acre. Behind it the diggers drilled in preparation for further Government attacks, knowing Hotham had sent strong military reinforcements from Melbourne.

Fall of the Stockade. Though many hundreds of diggers were ready to fight, they had little time to drill and organise. Not expecting trouble till the reinforcements arrived, most of them left on the Saturday night intending to return on the Sunday. But just before dawn on Sunday, December 3rd, 1854, when only 150 diggers were inside, a strong force of 276 redcoats and supporting police surprised and stormed the Stockade. The outnumbered and poorly armed diggers fought bravely but were overwhelemed. Thirty diggers were killed and over 100 taken prisoner. The Captain and four of his soldiers were killed, many wounded.

Great Results of Eureka. Though the diggers were defeated, the people of Victoria, who were also suffering from the undemocratic laws of the period, were inspired by the diggers' stand. Large meetings of citizens in Melbourne and Geelong and on several goldfields during the week after the fall of the Stockade demanded release of the Stockade prisoners and the granting of the democratic reforms the diggers had fought for. Governor Hotham and the squatters were compelled to grant many things... All the prisoners were released; digger-hunts and the compulsory monthly licence were abolished; in place of the expensive licence, a voluntary £1 per annum Miner's Right was instituted, with the right-to-vote going to holders of the Miner's Right. The people of Victoria were then able to clamour for the right-to-vote to be extended to all men over 21 years; and this great advance was achieved in 1857. In fact, Eureka Stockade had rallied a powerful democratic movement in Victoria of which there had been little organised sign before the Stockade. This movement went on to establish the parliamentary type of government we have today. It was for a time far ahead of the movement in NSW, and it assisted the struggles by "selectors" to win small blocks of farming land from the squatters and to introduce the 8-hour working day.

III Results of the Gold Discoveries
Population trebled: from 400,000 in Australia in 1851 to 1,100,000 in 1861. The immigrants were mostly young, healthy and freedom-seeking.

Wealth increased owing to the £100 million worth of gold dragged from the earth in the Fifties. Victoria profited most. Often the diggers' gold quickly found its way into the pockets of store- keepers, merchants and hotel owners, most of whose prices were usually high. Banks increased in number and capital. Money was available for the expansion of the sheep

Banks increased in number and capital. Money was available for the expansion of the sheep industry and the cities between 1860-90.

Land Battle arose when the diggers began to leave the depleted goldfields and look for farms of their own. The selectors fought against the squatters' hold on the land. This resulted in Selection Acts between 1860-90 which allowed the landless to take up a small block of land on the squatters' estate. The squatters, however, were often successful in resisting the selectors by both legal and illegal tactics.

Responsible Government was granted by Britain in 1855 (property-owners only could vote) because she feared that the diggers would go to great lengths to secure it. This degree of self-government gave Australians eligible to vote the right to form their own Government. Mainly it was the squatters who framed the first constitution of self-government in an undemocratic way designed to keep power in their hands and deny votes to the great majority of unpropertied citizens.

Democracy was introduced when the movement brought into being in Victoria by Eureka demanded democratic changes in the squatter-framed constitution. The diggers had won the right to vote (provided they paid the reduced licence fee) and this was soon extended (1857) to all men over 21 (British people did not reach this level until the reform bills of 1867, 1884 and 1918 were passed!) Other parliamentary freedoms such as Vote by Ballot, Equal Electoral Districts, Payment of Members, and Short Parliaments (triennial) were rapidly secured.

Trade Unionism arose quickly, achieving the 8-Hour Day for many tradesmen in 1856. It was in the Ballarat-Bendigo district that miners formed the first large-scale trade union in 1874 (Amalgamated Miners' Association) and this spread to shearers in the same region, and then to other workers. After defeat of these unions in the strikes of 1890, the Australian Labor Party was formed.

Material Progress followed the goldrushes. Wages were good up to 1890. Many industries were established. The sheep industry expanded tremendously. Roads, bridges, wharves, railways, towns and cities developed with extraordinary rapidity.

International Significance of the great flow of gold from Australia was that it considerably helped to advance the Industrial Revolution in England, and helped through loans to make Germany an industrial power...