Ballaarat [1 December 1854]

[Editor: An article regarding the Eureka Rebellion, printed two few days before the Battle of the Eureka Stockade. Published in The Argus, 1 December 1854.]


In another portion of this paper will be found accounts, from different sources, of the course of events on the above gold-field during the last few days. These have been eventful days, not for that gold-field only, or for the gold-fields generally; not merely in the effect their occurrences might have on any particular line of public policy, but in their relation to our future colonial history.

The burning of the Eureka Hotel, the trial of Bentley and his fellow criminals, the conviction and sentence of the rioters, and the interview between the deputation and the Lieutenant-Governor, have constituted a chain of events of universal interest. A very large proportion of the colonists have themselves been residents on the gold-fields, and have experienced the evils of the semi-military government there administered, and the remainder have been made acquainted with the state of matters at the diggings, by those who have witnessed them. Even the least informed and most careless of the people of Victoria, have by these events been led to the conviction that the diggers have had much to bear, and that they have hitherto borne, with exemplary patience, injuries and indignities to which British citizens have been rarely, if ever, before exposed. Public feeling has been all but universally with the diggers. Their wrongs have been acknowledged; their resentment sympathised in; and their resolution to obtain redress approved. The intelligence, the patriotism, the warmer sympathies of the whole people were arrayed on the side of the diggers. While the burning of the Eureka Hotel was condemned as a rash and inconsiderate action, the hope was entertained that the occurrence might give additional earnestness to the enquiry which has been instituted, and lead to real and permanent good. The Lieutenant-Governor, the Council, the people were on the side of the injured. Right was on the same side, and the doom of misgovernment was regarded as imminent.

But the miners should always bear in mind that, numerous as they may be, important as they are as our leading industrial class, they are not the sole inhabitants of this colony. There are vast numbers of colonists who are not diggers, and never intend to be. There is a public opinion exclusive of that evolved upon the gold-fields, and not very immediately influenced by the exciting speeches in which it is the fashion to address them. Now, if the diggers are sincerely anxious for reforms, it is important that they should continue to carry public opinion with them. They may be powerful as an isolated body, but they will be a great deal more powerful if they continue to enjoy the sympathy and co-operation of those not directly within the pale of their influences.

And, appealing in plain, intelligent language, to plain intelligent men, we would ask whether they think that public opinion will go with them into such deeds as those narrated in another column? A waggon upset in the dark night, the soldiery, who have never yet struck a blow or fired a shot against the diggers, beaten with their own arms, a driver brutally maltreated and a poor drummer shot through the thigh — are these deeds which will enlist the sympathies of an intelligent people? Is the maiming of a drummer-boy a worthy triumph for a large mass of a British population, who wish to occupy a creditable position in the eyes of the world? Surely not! Surely they must see that they are acting under evil advice!

Their success in obtaining a redress of their grievances depends, in a great measure, on the degree of the general conviction that they are right, — not merely in the objects they aim at, but in the means through which they seek to secure them. If the voice of the diggers “demanding” a redress of their wrongs were re-echoed by the whole people, the position of the Lieutenant Governor would be incalculably strengthened; and so truly national a demonstration of opinion would warrant his adoption of the most decisive measures of reform. The people of Victoria will, in many respects, bear comparison with any population of the same numbers in the British Empire, and their protest against wrong, and their call for justice, will eventually be listened to with respect, wherever the English language is spoken.

The events to which we have alluded will, however, tend very much to weaken the position of the diggers. The cowardly assault made by thousands on one waggon, and the cruelties inflicted on its defenceless attendants, will be heard of with shame and indignation wherever the narrative is read. The measures adopted by the Government in sending up a military force to Ballaarat may have been right or wrong; but surely the soldiers themselves were innocent of offence against the diggers or any other class of colonists. The reported injury attained by them brings discredit, not on those immediately concerned in the outrage only, but on the whole colony. We sincerely trust that such report will yet prove to have been exaggerated. Collisions between the people of England and the army have been exceedingly rare in modern history, and the demeanor of the soldiers has been, almost without exception, most creditable to them. While they have been, like Englishmen, true to their colors, they have been patient of the injuries and insults to which they have been subjected by highly excited multitudes.

But this event is greatly calculated to separate the diggers from the rest of the community. No one will wish to identify himself with such an action as this. It will be put forth as a plea in justification of the arbitrary rule hitherto in force at the gold-fields. The question will be asked, “does not such an assault as this constitute prima facie evidence of the necessity of such decided, and perhaps severe, measures of restraint as those complained of?” Many will think of the wounded waggoner and drummer, and forget those wrongs of the diggers, which it is yet the interest and the earnest desire of all to see redressed without delay. Men will refuse to aid a movement already stained with such un- called-for violence; and the freeman of Europe and America will read with sorrow of such deeds.

But what we feel principally concerned in, is the fear that this may be but the first act in a very dreadful tragedy. The feelings of the soldiery cannot but be excited by the late attack upon them, and if they be unfortunately called apon to act, the collision may prove a very fatal one. We should not be doing justice to the diggers if we did not warn them, that there is already a very large section of society which is beginning to hold opinions towards them, at which they might probably be somewhat startled. By such persons it is believed that the Government having several times had to succumb to the diggers, the latter will presume upon such triumphs again and again, till an example must be made. A good deal of this feeling upon the part of the diggers has peeped out lately. It exhibited itself in the “demand” made upon the Lieutenant-Governor for the release of the participators in the Eureka affair. Now it must be evident to intelligent men, that there is a point at which Government must make a stand. Opinions will differ as to where this may be, but every one must know, that unless a point be established somewhere, and maintained, Executive authority becomes a laughing-stock, and the community sinks into anarchy and confusion.

We come forward, then, with a few words of friendly advice; and solemnly warn those to whom they are addressed, that if rejected, a day or two hence they and the whole colony may have reason to regret their rejection. We wish to avert, if possible, the “example” to which we have alluded. But the deeds which we this day record cannot — must not — be repeated. The orderly and well-disposed should not only continue to abstain from encouraging such deeds, but they should use their moral force and use it energetically and perseveringly, to prevent their more excitable neighbors from resorting to them. The diggers must see and feel the soundness of the advice now tendered. They must know that no greater evil could befall the mining community than its settled alienation from the other classes of colonial society, yet such must be the certain effect of a repetition of the scenes to which we have adverted.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 1 December 1854, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
Ballaarat = the older spelling of “Ballaarat” (with four “a”s) differs slightly to the modern spelling of “Ballarat”

prima facie = Latin for “at first face”, referring to something that it is obvious “at first sight”, or to facts that bear out an argument “on the face of it” (in legal terms, it denotes evidence that would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or accusation, unless rebutted)

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