Chapter 2 [The Story of the Eureka Stockade, by John Lynch]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Story of the Eureka Stockade by John Lynch.]


The leaders

The burning of Bentley’s hotel marks a distinct epoch, and synchronises with the beginning of the monster meetings. Minor meetings there had been frequently, in which choice specimens of robust English were employed upon local topics. The meeting of the 7th October inaugurated the reign of tall-talk and high falutin’, when the orators — of whom there were many — were afforded opportunities of exercising their spell upon the astonished crowd. Out of a goodly number who competed for immortality and believed they would attain it, not more than half a dozen names have survived the wreck of time. The most notorious of these was Thomas Kennedy. In stentorian tones he announced his mission to be nothing less than that of his great exemplar, John Tyler — the political regeneration of mankind. Like another Kubla Khan, who heard from afar ancestral voices declaring war, he heard the ghost of Scobie crying for revenge. His contempt of moral force and preference for strong measures were expressed in these lines, which he loved to recite —

“Moral persuasion is all a humbug;
Nothing convinces like a lick i’ the lug.”

But in spite of this magniloquent rodomontade, when the time came to put his principles into action he was absent from his post; and the story ran that he prudently withdrew from the scene of danger to seek safety in the seclusion of a pipe-clay cross-drive in a blind shaft.

An imposing personality among those rhetorical belligerents was Frederick Vern. A Hanoverian by birth, he claimed and was allowed the privileges of a British subject; but he was hardly content with a share. Brave words came bubbling from his lips, and he spoke with the air of one having authority. It was he who moved at a public meeting that the license-tax was unjustifiable; that the licenses should be burned, and that the “United People” should see to their own defence and protection. His sympathies with oppressed peoples were ardent, and as catholic as were those of Anacharsis Clootz, the Speaker of mankind, embracing in their range all nations, tribes, and tongues. His military learning comprehended the whole system of warfare, every mode of attack and defence. He could dilate on them for hours, and with eclectic nicety describe their strong and weak points. But fortification was his strong point. He had Vauban and Coehorn at his fingers’ ends, and could show you with the acumen of a veteran critic the excellencies and defects of those great masters. On the strength of these acquirements he naturally expected to be nominated Commander-in-Chief; and was, no wonder, annoyed, when he found a raw civilian preferred, and advanced to that responsible post. But the disappointment, however galling, led to nothing serious. He did not sulkily retire to his tent, like another Achilles, to brood over his wrongs, but for the sake of the common cause held to his allegiance and loyally accepted the rank of lieutenant, or second in command.

Well do I remember his martial mien as he proudly paraded, trailing his long sword, in front of the old tent where the council of war used to be held. Subordinated to second rank, he consoled himself with the reflection that on him would devolve the duty of conducting operations when real work came to be done, and he longed for the opportunity. The opportunity did come sooner than he had expected or really desired, and it found our lieutenant quite another man. The sight of the Red Coats and the whizz of the bullets acted on him as the touch of Ithuriel’s spear on the Spirit of Evil; his true character stood confessed. He would blaster and plot for offices, and hold them as long as it was safe to do so; but he had no wish to get into trouble by them. The valour of Bob Acres never oozed more freely through his finger tips than did that of our redoubtable hero through every pore when confronted with the foe. To deserve and obtain a warrior’s grave was his lofty aspiration; he bemoaned the “cruel fate” which deprived him of that glory. But Carboni Raffaello used to say that “cruel fate” had nothing whatever to do with the business, and that his escape from a “warrior’s grave,” or a chance of the same, was entirely due to the length of his legs. How he escaped from the enclosure is indeed a mystery; but not so his action outside. Those who saw him run averred that his performance was such as to suggest a past-mastership in the art of desertion. When things settled down his voice was heard once more, and as usual bumptious and threatening; in time it descended to a plaintive whine, and then dropped silent for ever!

The next in order among our warlike worthies was Carboni Raffaello, an Italian who, according to his own story, had gone through some exciting adventures by flood and field. It was understood that he was a disciple of Garibaldi, and had followed that intrepid leader through some of his most trying campaigns; he, in fact, boasted that he had had practical lessons in the subtle art of guerrilla warfare under the eye of the liberator of Monte Video and victor or Palestrina. He was a man of many parts — could converse in several languages, and published a polyglot pamphlet on the crisis at Ballarat. He warmly espoused the doctrine of the “Rights of Man,” and, in scorn of slow tentative doses of political reform, would appeal like Hebert to the “sacred right of insurrection.” And yet, with all this noisy parade, I suspect he had but a scanty residue of true grit at bottom. His hut was situate within the Stockade in the very vortex of the hurricane. It was neatly set off at one end with a thick-built turf chimney. Into this queer hiding-place the fiery son of Mars skulked, and there lay safely ensconced like a snail in its shell, until all danger was over. Not until the place was evacuated by the soldiers, who had to convoy their prisoners to gaol and the hospital, did he venture to emerge. Being well known to the police on account of his inflammatory harangues, he was arrested, underwent the process of trial, and tasted the joy of acquittal. His behaviour under duress savoured more of the craven than the hero, while his ceaseless whine about the loss of his hat and puddling tub sufficiently revealed the melancholy fact that this perfervid “descendant of the Gracchi” (as he boasted himself) was nothing more than a mountebank revolutionary — a twopenny Catalina.

There were other advocates of the physical force policy, whose parts in the movement would entitle them to special mention; but as they were only of the rank and file, we must be permitted to plead want of space for passing them by. One man there was who, by common consent, enjoyed the pride of place at the monster meetings. This was Timothy Hayes. On all important occasions Mr. Hayes was sure to be voted to the chair. His pleasing deportment, suave manners and good address may have had more to do in winning him this distinction than any known aptitude of his for martial deeds. Fighting was not in his line, and he would avoid it if conciliation would suit his purpose as well. But no man can isolate himself wholly from his environments; and thus it happened that the least bellicose of men came all at once to sound a note of defiance and “high resolve” in a Tyrtean couplet, which, attuned to the harmonies of time, place and the work on hand, may have imparted more than a fleeting bias to tempers already disposed to hostilities.

“The sun shall see
Our country free,
Or set upon our graves.”

Brave words these; and meet to grace a peroration or provoke an Iliad. Mr. Hayes, though not an actual participator in the conflict, had to pass through the ordeal of arrest, trial, and acquittal, He afterwards settled down, and for a time rendered good civic service to his adopted country.

I shall now with pleasure try to describe another character, distinct in tone and quality from most of his confreres. Silent, unobtrusive, but resolute, James Esmond stands out differentiated from his comrades of the rank and file. He deserved well of his country, and was poorly rewarded. He was the first discoverer of gold in Victoria. Through this discovery Victoria rose at a single bound from the lowly position of a remote, obscure, and neglected dependency of the Crown to the proud position of being, until lately, the wealthiest, happiest, and most progressive of our colonial acquisitions. Mr. Esmond came originally from Ireland to this country; but, while yet a young man, quitted Victoria for California, impelled thither by that thirst for fortune which then attracted daring spirits from all nations to the new El Dorado, situate in the fork of the Sacramento. Noticing there the character of the gold-bearing rocks, he was struck with their resemblance to others with which he had been familiar in certain parts of Australia; and he very sagaciously inferred that the associated products of one set of phenomena would not be wanting in a kindred and similar set elsewhere. Acting on this idea, he made up his mind to return to Australia and there test by the experiment of the pick and shovel a theory fast developing towards verification. With the result we are all acquainted, but perhaps we have not equally realised the originality of a conception, not suggested by mere accident, nor appropriated from the labours of other explorers, but fairly deduced by careful reasoning from data closely observed and scientifically collated. He was a man of stubborn courage, as I had occasion to know. He was energetic, and worked hard to provide the necessary arms and ammunition for the expected struggle. Had but half those who espoused the cause been men of the Esmond stamp, there might he a different story to tell; and the history of Ballarat might have been enriched with a more thrilling page.

In this connection, a faithful ally remains to be dealt with, namely, the “Ballarat Times.” Its proprietor and editor were, respectively, Henry Seekamp and John Manning. It was started in 1854, and {as the prospectus stated) “in the interest of the community, and to supply a long felt want.” Its political tenets were far in advance of its laggard contemporaries; and its literary style, though sometimes cloudy, was always lofty. When hard hitting had to be done, it could deal blows like the hammer of Thor. Here is an extract, modestly self-laudatory and prophetic:—

“It is not for us to say how much we have been instrumental in rousing up the people to a sense of their wrongs. We leave that to the public and the world. . . . The Australian flag shall triumphantly wave in the sunshine of its own blue and peerless sky, over thousands of Australia’s adopted sons . . . And when the loud pean of

‘Now’s the day and now’s the hour,
See the front of battle lour,’

shall have pierced the blue vaults of Australia’s matchless sky, from the brave men of Ballarat, on next Wednesday at Bakery Hill, there will not be one discordant voice in the sublime and heroic chorus . . . Go forth, indomitable people! Gain your rights! And may the God of Creation smile down propitiously upon your glorious cause. Forward, People, forward!”

The redaction of this cloud-compelling journal was the joint work of the partners, but Manning was credited with the bigger share and the more risky. Of all the men who took part in the struggle of those times, not one surpassed John Manning in earnestness of feeling or singleness of purpose. John Manning was an Irishman and a Catholic.

John Lynch, The Story of the Eureka Stockade, Melbourne: Australian Catholic Truth Society, [1947?], pages 11-15

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