Monster meeting [7 February 1861]

[Editor: An article about the Lambing Flat riots. Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 1861.]

Monster meeting.

(From the Lambing Flat Miner, February 3.)

It having become rumoured amongst the mining community on the Burrangong for some time past that the Chinese intended assembling on that gold-field, all armed, and in such numbers that they could make a determined stand against any European force that could reasonably be brought against them, and that their intention was to make it a Chinese territory, several respectable miners issued a notice calling for a meeting on Sunday last, to take into their serious consideration the best means of nipping the Mongolians’ friendly intentions in the bud. Such a gathering as has scarcely been seen in these colonies assembled on Sunday afternoon, near the Golden Point, Lambing Flat, fully determined to settle the matter then and for ever.

The meeting was originally announced for twelve o’clock, and before that time several hundreds had scattered themselves round Golden Point, discussing the probable results of their movement. Owing to the impossibility of their friends at Stoney Creek to arrive by that hour, a postponement to three in the afternoon was found necessary, and during the interval the majority repaired to their abodes for refreshment.

About two o’clock a large body came in from Stoney Creek, headed by a brass band playing martial airs, with the Union Jack on either side floating over them. They came on horseback, on foot, and in vehicles, and the band occupied a “jaunting car” drawn by two fine horses, with a digger acting as John. The only arms they appeared to have were sticks looking in many instances like shovel and pick handles, which were flourished more or less as the shouts of the Lambing Flat men greeted them. Soon after, a party from Spring Creek was led up the main street by a fine burly young fellow carrying the Union Jack, and by another beating a drum made out of a tin case, whose shouts gathered along with them all stragglers. The arrival of this last party was the signal for business. By this time there could not have been less than fifteen hundred men on the ground; but so orderly and determined were they to preserve peace, that not a solitary breach occurred.

Several boxes were placed together on a small hillock, with the Union Jacks on either side of them for a platform, around which the dense assemblage collected, the Commissioner, with his seven troopers, all well armed, with detectives Carnes and Scarlett, occupying a position a short distance away.

The band opened the proceedings by playing a martial air, after which Mr. Charles Allen, storekeeper, of Lambing Flat, was universally appointed chairman. Who read the following notice convening the meeting:—

“Notice. — A public meeting will be held on Sunday, the 27th instant, at ten o’clock, in the vicinity of Golden Point, Lambing Flat, for the purpose of taking into consideration whether Burrangong is an European gold-field or a Chinese territory. A numerous attendance is requested.” He then alluded to the good order always maintained by the diggers in their movements, and hoped that day’s proceedings would be no libel on their past conduct. The assault on the shanties and gambling homes, he said, was a sufficient guarantee that they only desired a good state of society, and their previous affair with the Chinese was proof that they only wished to be rid, as peaceably as possible, of a nuisance to them all. Should any breach of the peace occur, he would be the first man to aid the Commissioner and his staff in quelling it; and he was confident that the originators of the movement would do the same. (Cheers from the Commissioner.) He then introduced Mr. Stewart, who would address them, and claimed for him a quiet and impartial hearing.

Mr. Stewart, on coming forward, was assailed by a perfect volley of cheers. He said — Mr. Chairman, gentlemen, and fellow-miners, — Before I go into the business for which we have met, I wish to state that had it not been for some treachery on the part of a person unknown to me, who pulled our notices down, we should have had six times the gathering here to-day. (A voice — “It was the Commissioner,” and loud cries of “There he is.”) Commissioner or no Commissioner, it was an unconstitutional act, but it matters little now since we are sufficiently numerous to do what we want to do. (Vehement cheering.) Well, Mr. Chairman, gentlemen, and fellow-miners. — A meeting has been called this day — and proud I am to see you have so nobly responded to it. (Hear, hear.) We have assembled for the purpose of discussing a very important and serious question. (Loud applause.) I presume you are all aware what that question is. (Cries of “Yes, yes; go on.”) The question is — shall the Burrangong Gold-Field (as you have no doubt seen on the notice) become a Chinese territory or an European diggings. (Shouts of “European diggings,” and “Down with the pig-tails.”) The question is really becoming so serious that it is now intolerable. (Hear, hear.) To my own certain knowledge there cannot be less than fifteen or sixteen hundred on the Lambing Flat and its vicinity, and the greater number, if not all of them, have arrived within the last fortnight. (Cries of “Down with them.”) I also have it from reliable authority, that the Chinese are on the road to these diggings in thousands. (Cries of “Stop them,” “turn them back.”) Now, gentlemen, shall the Chinese monopolise the gold-field that we have prospected and developed? (Cries of “No, no;” “down with them,” — and shall we as men and British subjects stand tamely by and allow the bread to be plucked from the mouths of ourselves, our wives, and children by those pig-tailed, moon-faced barbarians. (Shouts of “Down with the pig-tails,” “drive them before us.”) — men who would not spend one farthing in the colony could they possibly avoid it? — men, did I say — oh, my prophetic soul, my comrades — monkeys I ought to have said. (Laughter and cheers.) No, gentlemen. Were it possible for them to get what they daily consume from China, and to be able to avoid all connexion with British or foreign traffic, they would glory in being able to do so. (Cheers.) Now, gentlemen, you see what they expend in the colony, and the benefit derived from them is compulsory, which plainly signifies that they cannot help themselves. (Hear, hear.) It is a well-known fact that not one Chinaman out of five thousand, when he accumulates what he considers a sufficiency in his own country, but verifies the words of a well-known song written by the celebrated Charles Thatcher —

“And blow ’em, I say; scores arrive every day,
Get all they can, then hook it away.” — (Cheers.)

And these are the beings whom the Government class as the companions of civilised Christians! (Cries of “We won’t have them.”) These are the beings who, in a court of justice, are allowed to rank side by side with the European whose life, before to-day, has trembled in the balance of one of these miscreant’s oaths. (Shouts of “Away with the wretches.”) Oh! horrible mockery — disgrace to the British Constitution — on the oath of one of these miscreants — now, gentlemen, keep your ears open) — this oath that a Christian’s life may be so affected by, is neither more nor less than cutting a cock’s head off, breaking a saucer, or blowing a match out after it is lit, which is now proved to be a complete piece of humbug in their own country. (Vehement cheering and cries of “Shame.”) So you see you have got nothing but a Chinaman’s word against a Christian’s oath in a court of justice. (Cries of “Shame, shame.” and “Away with the pig-tails.”) We are now, I may safely say, on the only gold-field in New South Wales which has the appearance of being a permanent one — the only one on which the hard-working miner (the mainstay of the colony) can eke out more than a bare subsistence. (Hear, hear.) You are, no doubt, aware of the state the other gold-fields are in — instance Kiandra, Araluen, Turon, Meroo, Tambaroora, &c., in short, gentlemen, they are all in a state of insolvency, and the only solvent one is the one on which we are striving for an honest livelihood. (Hear, hear.) Now the livelihood is about to be torn from your grasp; but how, and by whom? By the curse, the plague of the country, namely Chinamen. (Shouts of “Never, never; down with them.”) I am certain that the Burrangong gold-fields will be a diggings for years, capable of supporting thousands upon thousands of poor men. (Hear, hear.) But how long will they continue to be the support of thousands who have no other way of gaining an honest livelihood but by begging, if the Chinese are allowed to pour in upon us in such countless numbers? Why, six months will smother them. What, then, are they to do? Where are they to go? God help the poor men who have wives and families depending on them for support at such a time. Well, I will answer, — why, starve! (Great uproar, and execrations at the Chinamen.) Mr. Stewart then in a humorous vein suggested a remedy, by telling them if they were good working men they might obtain seven or ten shillings per week from the squatter, with rations, which produced a tumult of hisses, groans, and anything but flattering exclamations. In conclusion, he said — It doesn’t require a second sight to see into the future. It is quite evident to all what the result will be if we do not take some measure to stop this gross outrage upon our rights. (Hear.) Then, men and fellow-miners, let us assert our rights before God and man — in the clear face of day — like free-born Britons — and prevent ourselves from being trampled to the dust like dogs. (Great confusion.) But, gentlemen, I would strongly advise you to keep within the bounds of the law and not commit a breach of the peace. (Cheers from the Commissioner and numbers in the crowd.) Mr. Stewart then read the following resolution:—

“Since the Government will not protect us, our wives, families, society, and necessary occupations from the incursions of a race of savages, we bind ourselves, to a man, to do so: and for that purpose we intend to give all Chinese or descendants of that race two days’ notice to quit the Burrangong gold-fields; and in the event of their not complying with that request, to take such measures as shall satisfactorily rid the mining community of the Burrangong for ever of such pests and nuisances.”

Amidst the greatest excitement and confusion a respectable miner named Dayton seconded the resolution.

Several other speakers endeavoured to be heard, but an over-powering majority were for instant action, and “no notice” was the general cry. Groups collected, and all tried to speak at once, when the band, striking up, and moving slowly away, was the signal for the breaking up of the meeting, and on the gathering rolled in one heavy cloud in the direction of Little Spring Creek, alternately harangued and cautioned by the Commissioner and the sergeant against using violence, and the crowd promising, in the event of such taking place, to apprehend the delinquents. As one man expressed it, “We only want to sweep them before us like chaff before the wind:” and so they did. Scouts immediately started up the creek and in every direction; and arriving at the destination, a sight that baffles description presented itself. On the opposite side of the creek one or two tents were in flames, which was generally believed to have been the work of the Chinese themselves. Along the bed of the creek one mass of celestial life seemed to agitate it with all the marks of haste in its movements, carrying such burdens that even Chinamen might grow weary with. The banks on either side were lined with Europeans who hurried China’s brown sons on by occasional remarks and strong intimations, the band playing the whole time. Up the steep on to the flat they came like the flowings of a never-ceasing river. Not less than from two to three thousand came up in single file and marched along silently in the direction the Europeans pointed out. One sick Chinaman was found, who was permitted to remain, with one of his countrymen to attend him, and one of the best huts offered as a residence. When the others had all cleared out of the creek, the band turned the tide in the direction of the township, through which they escorted the whole of the Mongolians till they came on to Blackguard Gully, where a similar scene was gone through. Here a tent or two was burned, and another sick Chinaman protected, and the whole mass drifted away from the diggings according to the directions given by the Europeans, who shortly after returned to the Flat, when the proceedings were supposed to have terminated.

Late in the afternoon, a cry fluttered over the Lambing Flat that Stewart, the speaker of the previous meeting, was apprehended. It did not require a second summons to bring the lingering and self-satisfied agitators alongside the court-house. It was like the rise of a slumbering volcano. Although the Stoney Creek party had mostly left the place, there was sufficient left from the embers of the late affair to raise a blaze to the name of Stewart. But, fortunately for society and everything else on Lambing Flat, it turned out to be a kind of a “bye-ball” of the name of Smith, who had certainly proved himself rather uproarious in the great event of the day. But the crowd were not to be disappointed. They had come for the release of their best man, and they found it an inferior one. But as they had pledged themselves to live or fall by the sacrifices made by any man in that days proceedings, so they felt, so long as he was attached to them, he was bound to receive their support. At whoever’s instigation the man was arrested, under the circumstances, it was condemnable. The whole proceedings had passed off without a solitary breach, and for Government officials to be the first to do anything to create that breach was, to say the least, censorious. All Government officials, and all men who love law and order would have been justified in taking any step to quell a threatened disturbance of the peace, but no man is justified, let him be Governor himself, in raising a storm that has for a certainty lulled. We will veil the after proceedings, and conclude the affair by stating that the man was let loose on respectable bail, and bound over the following day to keep the peace — a proceeding which might have been adopted when the excitement had died away with much better effect, if necessary.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 7 February 1861, p. 2

Editor’s notes:
air = melody, short melodious song, tune

Burrangong = Burrangong goldfield (Young, New South Wales)

car = an abbreviation of “carriage”

celestial = of or relating to China or Chinese people (the “Celestial kingdom” is an archaic name for China) (may also refer to: of or relating to the sky or outer space; of or relating to heaven; something from Heaven; something which is regarded as heavenly, or very good)

connexion = an alternative spelling of “connection”

farthing = a coin equivalent to one-quarter of a penny (the name “farthing” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “feorthing”, or “fourthling”); whilst farthings were not minted in Australia, they were used as units of monetary measurement, and British farthings could be used in Australia (“farthing” may also refer to something of little value)

Mongolian = of or relating to the racial classification “Mongoloid” (also known as the “Asian”, “Oriental”, or “Yellow” race); someone from a Mongolian racial background (may also mean: of or relating to Mongolia or the Mongols)

Oh, my prophetic soul = a line from Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5), by William Shakespeare, where Hamlet says “O my prophetic soul! My uncle?” during his conversation with a ghost

pig-tail = Chinese man (from the traditional manner in which Chinese men grew their hair into long pony-tails, or pig-tails)

second sight = the power of premonition; being able to see future events or distant events

shanties = plural of “shanty”: a pub, especially an unlicensed pub; may also refer to a small roughly-built cabin or hut

Union Jack = the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

[Editor: Changed “against then” to “against them”; “whoevers” to “whoever’s”. Added closing bracket after “them before us.”” and after “mainstay of the colony”.]

Speak Your Mind