History

Eureka

Naturally, this firm irreverence towards those in power is ongoing. Sedition and rebellion has always worried the political overseers of Australia.

The nation’s sovereignty has been compromised for alliances with foreign powers. This spirit of Eureka is closely connected to the unfulfilled attainment of Australian independence.

Australia’s current lack of political, economic and socio-cultural sovereignty is symbolically challenged when the Eureka flag is taken up by Australian citizens in struggles for justice, equality and a democratic lifestyle now and into the future.

 

Parent Category: Spirit Content

Aftermath to Eureka

 

Support for the Eureka rebels amongst the local population of Victoria was widespread. Massive meetings took place in Melbourne, where more than 10,000 people attended mass meetings in the city streets and were outspoken in their support of miners at the Eureka Stockade. Resolutions were accepted insisting on change.

The 13 Eureka Rebel ‘leaders’ who were tried for treason were all acquitted by the court jury.  A commission that enquired into conditions on the goldfields saw to the Miner's Licenses being abolished and replaced by a Miner's Right of one pound a year. This entitled the holder of the right to vote in Victoria’s Legislative Council elections, as the vote was available to those who paid the £1 per year for the Miner’s Right.

 

Parent Category: Spirit Content

Ballarat Reform League

 

On Saturday, 11 November 1854 an assembly of more than 10,000 miners met at Bakery Hill. At this meeting, the Ballarat Reform League was formed, with the Chartist, John Humffray being elected the first Chairman. Kennedy and Holyoake, who had involvement with the Chartist movement in England, were also elected leaders of the Ballarat Reform League. In fact large numbers of miners had earlier connections with the Chartist movement and the social turmoil that occurred in Britain, Ireland and continental Europe of the 1840s.

In forming its goals, the Ballarat Reform League took on the British Chartist movement's objectives.

1. A full and fair representation

2. Manhood (sic) suffrage

3. No property qualification of Members for the Legislative Council.

4. Payment of Members

5. Short duration of Parliament

Immediate objects of the Reform League were:

The immediate disbandment of the Gold Fields Commissioners and the abolition of the Miners' and Storekeepers license tax.

The Bakery Hill meeting affirmed "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 also determined to secede from Britain if the situation did not improve….

"If Queen Victoria continues to act upon the ill advice of dishonest ministers and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for the Colony, under the assumed authority of the Royal Prerogative, the Reform League will endeavour to supercede such Royal Prerogative by asserting that of the People which is the most Royal of all Prerogatives, as the people are the only legitimate source of all political power."

During the following weeks, the League sought to negotiate with Commissioner Rede and Governor Hotham, on both the matters involving Bentley and the men being tried for the burning of the Eureka Hotel, and on the larger issues of abolition of the license, democratic representation of the miners, and disbanding of the Gold Commission. Commissioner Rede's response was to increase the police oppressive “license hunts” and call for reinforcements from Melbourne.

On November 29th a meeting of some 12,000 miners heard the Reform League delegation explain its failure in negotiations with the Colonial establishment. The miners declared open resistance to the authorities and burned the despised licenses.

Response was swift and the police were ordered to conduct a license search on 30 November. Eight miners without a license were arrested, and the military had to rescue the arresting officers from the angry mob that had gathered.

 

Parent Category: Spirit Content

Battle Preparations: The Flag and The Oath

 

This inspection foray hastened a change in the leadership of the Reform League, to people who championed 'physical force' over 'moral force' as argued by Humffray and the old leadership.

The incensed miners elected the more militant Peter Lalor as their leader. Quickly a military formation was organized amongst the miners and a defensive stockade was built against further government attacks. The Eureka Flag was unfurled, and an oath of allegiance was sworn.

"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties."

On Sunday at dawn on 3 December, 280 soldiers and police charged the stockade whose numbers had dwindled to around 120 diggers. The police units emulated the army with a ruthless bayonet charge. About 22 diggers and 6 soldiers were killed in the fight. Some 140 men were arrested, but most were eventually released. The authorities chose 13 supposed ring-leaders for trial.

 

Parent Category: Spirit Content

Further Unrest

Additional events inflamed the politically charged atmosphere in Ballarat. On 6 October 1854, the Scottish miner James Scobie was murdered at the Eureka hotel. Ten days later between 5,000 and 10,000 miners gathered at the Eureka Hotel to protest that James Bentley, the hotel owner and key murder suspect had not been charged. Bentley was a business partner of one of the Gold Commission officials and his acquittal was seen as government corruption. Bentley’s hotel was burnt down and he and his wife fled the gold fields.

On 23 October 1854 as result of the arrests of miners, McIntyre and Fletcher for the Eureka Hotel fire, a mass meeting assembled which attracted 4,000 miners. The meeting established a "Digger's Right Society", to uphold their rights. Nine days later, 1 November 1854, 3,000 miners met again at Bakery Hill and were addressed by key speakers, such as the Chartists, Thomas Kennedy and Henry Holyoake. The miners were further incensed by the arrest of another seven from amongst their ranks for the Eureka Hotel fire.

Parent Category: Spirit Content

Patrons of Spirit of Eureka

- Julian Burnside QC

- Bernard Constable, National General

- Secretary, Shearers’ and Rural Workers’ Union; Member of Eureka Stockade Memorial Association, Ballarat

- Shane Howard, Australian songwriter and musician

- Fr. Bob Maguire, AM, RFD

- Humphrey McQueen, Australian historian and activist

- Val Noone, Historian and Peace Activist

- Anne O’Rourke, Human Rights Lawyer and  academic

- Robert Richter, QC

- Rob Stary, Criminal Defence Lawyer and  Democratic Rights activist