Ballaarat [Eureka Rebellion, 15 December 1854]

[Editor: A report on the Eureka Rebellion. Published in The Argus, 15 December 1854.]


On the night of the fatal 3rd December, we had come to the conclusion that there was every prospect of sad doings at Ballaarat; and we therefore requested one of the ablest and most experienced gentlemen of our staff to proceed to that locality, and to furnish reports of what was taking place. Within an hour or two of the request being made, our express arrived, bringing the particulars of the mournful tragedy of that very morning, and proving how well founded had been our prognostications of evil tidings.

Since then, the gentleman sent up has remained upon the spot, furnishing the particulars of the transactions passing around him, which have appeared in our columns. Hitherto he has wisely abstained from entering at any length into the condition of things generally, limiting his letters to more reports of proceedings at the Police Court, and of the other current incidents of the day, and reserving more elaborate treatment till he had had time to enquire carefully into the subjects upon which he wished to obtain information.

His letter of yesterday’s date, however, enters a little more deeply into the subject of the present condition of Ballaarat, and as the production of an impartial observer, at once intelligent, moderate, kind-hearted, and conscientious, it will be found very well worthy of attentive perusal by all parties at the present crisis. It is as follows:—

Ballaarat, December 13th, 1854.

I enclose the verdict of the jury in the inquest touching the death of Henry Powell; and the quasi deposition made by him when at the point of death. I leave you and your readers to form your own conclusions as to the relation of the verdict to the evidence; but would call attention to that verdict and the evidence, as furnishing as impressive illustration of the course pursued by the troopers after the conflict of the 3rd instant and of the feelings with which their conduct is viewed by the population of Ballaarat. The people are indignant at the conduct of the trooper on occasion; and I believe that those who read the evidence adduced on the inquest will sympathise in their indignation. The soldiers captured the stockade, and their excesses in the moment of victory are not to be wondered at, when one remembers the insults and violence to which they were subjected on their arrival at Ballaarat, their excitement consequent on the encounter, and their resentment at the fall of their officer. I have had opportunities of observing the patience and self-command of the soldiers repeatedly since. They are to be seen in parties of two or three scattered over the gold-field and engaged in friendly intercourse with the diggers, while they inspect their operations. I saw yesterday eight or ten of them listen, without answering one word, to the persistent insults of an intoxicated digger, who loudly announced his intention of “thrashing the whole Camp.”

The troopers, on the other hand, who had no part, comparatively, in the engagement, seemed to have been maddened by success, and to have, ridden about arresting all who showed themselves, nay those who were quietly in their beds, in order to swell the number of prisoners and augment the triumph. The evidence as to the murder of Powell is but a specimen of the recitals heard on every hand of the reckless brutality of the troopers that morning. I must bear witness to the patience of the people. In describing the insults and injustice to which they saw their friends or were themselves subjected, they use language much more temperate than I am inclined to employ. The conduct of the troopers seems to have excited in the minds of the people no surprise, to have been just what, from previous experience of them, they would have expected in those circumstances. I had a long conversation lately with two most respectable-looking young men, whom I had observed the previous day, brought upon the charge of being identified with the insurrectionary movement. They had been taken at the door of their store, undressed, as they got out of bed to see what was the cause of the disturbance. They had been kept in prison from Sunday morning to Thursday. They had lost, in consequence of their arrest, several hundred pounds each, and yet they told me of the events with a forbearance to which I was myself at the moment a stranger.

This composure of tone gives greater weight to the statements which everywhere meet me, as to the tyrannical and arbitrary treatment to which the people have been subjected by the troopers. Their opinion is a deliberate one, and no mere expression of temporary excitement.

I am unwilling to anticipate the result of the inquiry into these questions to be instituted by the commission, but cannot help expressing my conviction that justice to the people of Ballaarat requires that the force which has now made itself so obnoxious to them should be removed. The presence of the troopers, who consummated on Sabbath morn their long course of wanton oppression, is a continued insult to the people of this gold-field and to all the people of Victoria. Should matters be permitted to remain as they have been, I do not say there will be renewed outbreaks, drilling of armed men, fortifications, and bloodshed. Such things may be, and though I believe their occurrence in the case supposed improbable, yet the possibility of their occurrence must be averted.

The presence of these troopers is henceforth useless for any purpose of defending life and property. There were several robberies last night. I have heard the particulars of five of them, and such occurrences may be expected to increase in frequency. The people have been to a great extent disarmed. The insurgents levied contributions of arms and ammunition remorselessly, and in accordance with the terms of Sir Robert Nickle’s’ proclamation, about 600 stand of arms were, before noon on Saturday, deposited in the Camp. The better disposed part of the population, those whom it is worthwhile to rob, are thus left without defence. The troopers cannot leave the Camp; in parties they sally out throughout the day, but they dare not, or believe they dare not, attempt to guard the gold-field at night.

This inefficiency of the present police force for good is to some extent admitted, and it is stated that from to-day the administration of this department is intrusted to Mr. Inspector Foster. He, I am informed, will bring down from Castlemaine some of his own men, and station them on the flat. I think it due to this gentleman and to the people of Ballaarat, to record the impression he has made on my mind and the feeling universally entertained towards him. During the whole course of the preliminary examinations, he appeared to have the position of counsel for the prisoners. He brought up prisoners in groups of three or four, stated that they had been subjected to the inspection of soldiers and police, that they had not been identified, and that there was no evidence against them. What I saw of this gentleman enables me to believe the statements which have been made to me by all classes of the population of Ballaarat, members of the Reform League Committee, insurgents, storekeepers, diggers, troopers — all tell me that every one has confidence in Mr. Foster, and that if he had not been removed from Ballaarat there would have been no disturbance; that he knew every one on the gold-field, and that if a man of bad character was there, he could lay his hand on him at any moment. But for what I saw of Mr. Foster in the course of the proceedings in the Police Court I should have thought it impossible for any man to enjoy the confidence and affection of so mixed a population as that of Ballaarat, occupying, as he did, a difficult and delicate position in reference to them.

Mr. Commissioner Amos is also universally spoken of with esteem and affection. I have never seen this gentleman, but hear his name mentioned in every quarter with the highest respect. Capt. Thomas I have to some extent observed personally, and am so able to endorse the general estimate which has been formed of him. Of the military skill manifested in his arrangements for the attack on the Eureka Stockade I will not speak, for it is in the highest degree painful to speak of the military talent displayed in the attack, by a portion of the British army, on a portion of the British people. I leave others, who are better able to judge, to testify to the efficiency of the manner in which he discharged his duty on this melancholy occasion. I gladly bear testimony to his humanity. It was no less conspicuous than his courage. I am informed by eye-witnesses that he exerted himself to the utmost to restrain the soldiers, when flushed with victory, from any excess. On Tuesday forenoon I was present while repeated complaints were made to him, not all in the most respectful language, of bullets which had been fired from the Camp on the occasion of the attack the night before, and had pierced houses and tents. Capt. Thomas’s tone in receiving their complaints, explaining the character of the attack, and expressing his profound regret that any of the peaceable people of Ballaarat should have been injured or alarmed, was worthy of a British officer, and presented the most striking contrast to the sneering, insolent, resentful manner of some of the other officials beside him.

It is due to the people of this gold-field to record their appreciation of these gentlemen. Confidence in Mr. Foster and Mr. Amos is as essential an article of their creed as is indignation at the troopers. It shews that they can perceive and appreciate worth, and that their perception of it is not suggestive of cold approval only, but of confidence and affection. There is no more unequivocal indication of sound moral feeling than is afforded by the prompt and hearty acknowledgement of the claims of real integrity, and I regard the respect and affection with which the people regard these gentlemen as equally creditable to the people and the objects of their regard.

I have said that persistence in the past course of treating the people of Ballaarat may not end in renewed outbreaks. Although I earnestly desire that the trial may not be made, and do not believe it will, I regard the people of this place as less likely to revolt, even under exasperating treatment, than perhaps any other population of the same numbers in the British Empire. The great majority of them are intelligently attached to British rule. Even when this is not the case, the strongest motives deter them from any insurrectionary movement. Many have invested their capital in sinking shafts, and if they are compelled to abandon them, or even to neglect them for a short time, the result is ruin. The class of storekeepers, on the other hand, are dependent on the success of the miners for their prosperity, and would suffer no less ruinously than they from the interruption of the especial productive labor of Ballaarat.

Such a people are manifestly the most unlikely to initiate an insurrectionary outbreak. I am convinced that a very small proportion of them indeed were identified with the recent movement. I am informed by some of those who have been to some extent mixed up with it, that they do not believe that of the population of Ballaarat, supposing it to consist of 15,000 males above fifteen years of age, 1000 would have said, if individually asked, that they were prepared to take up arms in resistance to the existing authorities, bad as they might believe the Administration of Justice to be. This movement was to a certain extent aided by those who only thought of expressing in a very emphatic manner their protest against the military government under which they lived; who hoped by such mean to accelerate the remedy of existing evils, but never dreamt of the occurrences which have ensued.

Should no real reform of the abuses in the government of Ballaarat take place, although many of the population may not leave it, they will remain only because their leaving the spot would be pecuniarily a sacrifice they cannot meet. They will feel themselves to be strangers, and look forward to the hour when they can leave their present dwellings behind. Victoria will thus alienate from herself some thousands of the finest people that ever a colony possessed. I sincerely hope that this will not be the issue, and that by the adoption of such a mode of treatment as can alone secure the confidence of free men, the intelligent, true-hearted, and indefatigable people of Ballaarat will be attached indissolubly to the colony.

I went on Sabbath forenoon to visit the wounded at the Camp and in the Red Hill Hospital. The day was a glorious one. Amid its splendor I could not help recollecting with shame and sorrow the scene which heralded the rise on Ballaarat of the previous Sabbath’s sun. These feelings were deepened by the sight I saw in the different wards. In one seven diggers lay seriously wounded and suffering; in the next, six soldiers, including the drummer-boy. The injuries, though not dangerous, were of a serious description. Each sufferer was a new protest against all who, directly or indirectly, have originated or accelerated the late distressing collision. I looked on the wounded insurgents and soldiers with equal sympathy for their sufferings, and regret for their cause. No one could look on the fine stalwart men, maimed for life in this encounter, without the bitterest regret that British subjects should thus have mutilated each other.

I am glad to have it in my power to say that the wounded are all progressing favorably. The hot weather of the end of last week and the beginning of this had rather an unfavorable influence, but a change yesterday afternoon from intense heat to decided coldness has been much in favor of the sufferers. I believe that nothing has been wanting to their wellbeing that medical skill could suggest as calculated to prove advantageous. I could have wished that all authorities and popular agitators had seen these poor fellows as I saw them, and so have been compelled to reflect on the character of the demon they evoke, when they, howsoever indirectly, entail on a peaceful population a civil war.

On Sabbath evening a meeting was held on the flat below Bath’s Hotel, for the purpose of enrolling special constables. After a brief, emphatic, and thoroughly soldier-like address from Sir Robert Nickle, some remarks were made by one or two individuals, the purport of which I could not catch. The meeting was adjourned till the following day at six p.m.. But before the hour arrived a proclamation appeared, intimating that Sir Robert, acting on information tendered to him, prohibited the holding public meetings, as drawing the industrious diggers from their work. I do not know what the information was on which Sir Robert acted, but I believe that he acted wisely. One individual who is excited and angry is enough to give to a public meeting at present an apparently entirely different character from that which would embody the feelings of the people present. There are on Ballaarat just now many people who are excited and angry, and the occurrence of public meetings is calculated to give their feelings unduly prominent expression. Indignation has been felt for years.

Successive events have given expression to it. The foolhardy license-hunting expedition of Thursday intensified such feelings, and the cruelties which followed the sad encounter of the morning of the 3rd, have induced in the case of many of the most loyal and peaceful of the people of Ballaarat, a degree of resentment which no one who reads the evidence on the inquest on poor Powell will be surprised at.

I saw Powell’s funeral on Monday afternoon, and joined the little company which followed the cart on which, wrapped in a union-jack, his coffin was borne. There were not more than six persons in attendance. The people are tired of the painful excitement of the past week, and unwilling to leave their employment. It was melancholy to witness the little party wind their way through the bustling thoroughfare and the gay tents of Bakery Hill, and I felt that the flag which enwrapped the coffin was an appeal to every Briton to endeavor, with his whole heart, to avert the possibility of the recurrence of so sad a sight as that of a peaceful British subject cut down and mangled, unarmed and defenceless, by his fellow subjects.

I heartily testify to the intelligence and impartiality of the coroner, Dr. Williams, in the conduct of the inquiry into the causes of Powell’s death. The jury were obviously solicitous to ascertain the truth, and I may be permitted to mention one circumstance as illustrative of their sense of the duty they owed to the people of Victoria and of the value of the services of the press.

After a short adjournment on Monday, the proceedings were about to be resumed, when the foreman called the attention of the coroner to the fact that the representatives of the press were not all present, and in the name of the jury said that no evidence would be taken in their absence.

DEPOSITION of HENRY POWELL.— The deceased deposed to the following effect:—

My name is Henry Powell. I am a digger residing at Creswick’s Creek. I left Creswick’s Creek about noon on Saturday, December 2nd. I said to my mates “You will get the slabs ready; I will just go over to see Cox and his family at Ballaarat.” I arrived at Ballaarat about half-past four or thereabouts. Saw armed men walking about in parties of twenty or thirty. Went to Cox’s tent, put on another pair of trousers, and walked down the diggings. Looked into the ring. After that went home. Went to bed in the tent at the back of Cox’s tent, about half-past nine. On Sunday morning, about four or half-past, was awoke by the noise of firing. Got up soon after, and walked about twenty yards, when some troopers rode up to me. The foremost one was a young man whom I knew as the Clerk of the Peace. He was a light, fair complexion, with reddish hair. He told me to “Stand, in the Queen’s name.” “You are my prisoner.” I said “Very good, Sir.” Up came more troopers. I cannot say how many. Believe about twenty or thirty. I said “Very well, gentlemen, don’t be in a hurry, there are plenty of you,” and then the young man struck me on the head with a crooked knife, about three feet and a half long, in a sheath. I fell to the ground. They then fired at me, and rode over me several times. I never had any hand in the disturbance. There, that’s all.”

VERDICT OF THE JURY.— The death of deceased was caused by sabre cuts and gun shot wounds, wilfully and feloniously, and of their malice aforethought, inflicted and fired by Arthur Purcell Akehurst and other persons unknown.

The Jury return a verdict of Wilful Murder against Arthur Purcell Akehurst and other persons unknown.

The Jury trust that his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor will see the justice of offering a large reward for such evidence as will lead to the conviction of the murderers.

The jury express their condemnation of the conduct of Captain Evans in not swearing deceased at the time of taking his statement, after having been cautioned by Dr. Wills of his immediate danger.

The jury view with extreme horror the brutal conduct of the mounted police, in firing at and cutting down unarmed and innocent persons of both sexes at a distance from the scene of disturbance on December 3rd, 1851.

The jury expressed their approbation of the impartial manner in which Dr. Williams had discharged his duty as coroner.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Friday 15 December 1854, page 4

Editor’s notes:
intrusted = a variant of “entrusted”

shew = an older spelling of “show”

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