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Conditions on the gold fields, unfair laws, racism, anti-British attitudes and the miner’s license, played a huge part in causing the Eureka Rebellion to take place. The miners’ eventually grew tired of the unfair laws and living conditions, so they built the Eureka Stockade and gathered firearms, in an attempt to fight for their rights and liberties. During the early morning of December 3rd 1854, the authorities launched an attack on the stockade.
The miners’ fought back fervently, but their basic weapons and determination was no match for the military’s vast numbers and fierce weaponry. Even though the revolt itself was a military failure, the miners’ rebellion led to personal and political benefits for many Australians. The Eureka Stockade was a bloody but essential part of Australian history. It played a vital role in the development of democracy and personal identity within Australia. The rebellion was caused by a number of issues within the gold fields. The miners were suffering from a number of injustices.
They had no political rights; they were not allowed to vote in elections nor were they entitled to a representative in the Legislative Council, and they were treated unjustly by the blatantly brutal and corrupt government officials. However, their main grievance was the excessive and overpriced gold mining license, which cost thirty shillings each month to renew. Most of the miners’ found it nearly impossible to pay the ridiculously priced mining fee and still meet the cost of living, on the scarce and barely sufficient amount of money they had.
The miners’ were required to carry their licenses with them at all times, if they were found without their license they could be fined or imprisoned. The dreaded “License Hunts” were soon brought in. License Hunts gave police the liberty to check a miner’s license at random. Those found without a license were liable to severe fines and unjust imprisonment and punishment. Most of the police were unsatisfactory, as many of them were ex-convicts and guards; because of this many of the officers were inclined to violence and brutality during a License Hunt.
The officers’ brutality and unjust behaviour further infuriated the miners and made the Ballarat Gold-Fields’ police subject to much hatred. Corrupt Officialdom was a heady problem on the gold fields. In one instance, a group of men beat a drunken Scottish digger to death, the group included local publican James Bentley. James was a friend of the local magistrate; because of this he and the other three men escaped persecution. The miners were appalled. A group of three miners went to Bentley’s hotel and burnt it to the ground in defiance.
It was not too soon after that the men were charged with arson. On the 11th of November 1854, ten thousand miners met to demand the release of the three men, the right for all males to vote and the abolition of the miners license; this meeting led to the formation of the Ballarat Reform League. Several of the Reform League leaders had also been involved with the Chartist movement in England. On the 29th of November of that same year, twelve thousand people at Bakery Hill watched as the Southern Cross flag, otherwise known as the Eureka Flag, was unveiled for the first time.
The flag became the symbol of their struggle; the miners burned their licenses and fired shots into the air under the flag in an act of triumph and defiance. The next day, under the governance of an Irishman, Peter Lalor, a smaller but determined group swore the oath under the Eureka flag. “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties” – The Miners Oath The small group of miners, marched to the Eureka Lead and forged wooden barricades, to form what is now famously known as the Eureka Stockade. The uthorities, despising the miners’ rebellion, called in reinforcements from Melbourne and prepared their attack. After two days of leaving the miners unharmed in their stockade, heavily armed soldiers and police attacked the stockade on Sunday the 3rd of December 1854. The miners were unprepared and caught off guard; they fought with determination and courage, but were outnumbered and outgunned. Although the miners lost the battle, ultimately the war was won. Twenty-Two of the miners were left dead, and a further 125 miners were taken prisoner, many being severely wounded.
The authorities only suffered from six casualties, being police officers and troopers. An estimation of 120 miners were arrested after the Stockade, many of them being innocent. However, thirteen of them were charged with High Treason, despite the evidence against them, not a single one of the miners were found guilty. Peter Lalor, the leader of the revolt, and a few other men from the rebellion, managed to escape the scene. Lalor’s left arm which was badly wounded from gunshot wounds was eventually amputated. When Hotham’s Royal Commission Report was finally handed down it assessed all aspects of the administration on the gold fields.
The report made several major recommendations including the abolition of the miners license, cuts on the amount of police, the replacement of gold commissioners and the restriction on Chinese immigration. According to Blainey, “It was perhaps the most generous concession offered by a governor to a major opponent in the history of Australia up to that time. The members of the commission were appointed before Eureka… they were men who were likely to be sympathetic to the diggers. ” Peter Lalor and the other rebels, who had escaped from the Stockade, came out of hiding after a general amnesty was proclaimed on the 9th of May 1855.
Lalor then wrote a statement to the Colonists of Victoria stating, “There are two things connected with the late outbreak (The Eureka Stockade) which I deeply regret. The first is, that we shouldn’t have been forced to take up arms at all; and the second is, that when we were compelled to take the field in our own defence, we were unable (through want of arms, ammunition and a little organisation) to inflict on the real authors of the outbreak the punishment they so richly deserved. ” In 1855 Lalor had become the first Member of the Legislative Council, for the seat of Ballarat.
The miners in Ballarat were given eight representatives in Parliament. During one of Lalor’s speeches in the Legislative Council in 1856 he said, “I would ask these gentlemen what they mean by the term ‘democracy’. Do they mean Chartism or Republicanism? If so, I never was, I am not now, nor do I ever intend to be a democrat. But if a democrat means opposition to a tyrannical press, a tyrannical people, or a tyrannical government, then I have been, I am still, and will ever remain a democrat. ” Lalor was later elected to the New Legislative Assembly in1856, and then went on to be elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1880.
The Eureka Stockade influenced Australia greatly. Even though the short term benefits of Eureka were only mildly beneficial, the long term results have drastically changed and shaped Australia. The Eureka Stockade was the foundation stone of democracy in Australia, with some even arguing that Australian democracy was born at Eureka. Eureka also saw the beginning of Australia becoming its own, independent nation, without having strong ties to the British. It gave many ordinary, working-class peoples the same rights as those who were born in to wealth and power.