The Eureka Rebellion occurred in 1854, instigated by gold miners in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, who revolted against the colonial authority of the United Kingdom. It culminated in the Battle of the Eureka Stockade, which was fought between rebels and the colonial forces of Australia on 03 December 1854 at Eureka Lead and named after a stockade structure built by miners in the lead-up to the conflict. The rebellion resulted in at least 27 deaths and many injuries, the majority of casualties being rebels.
The rebellion was the culmination of a period of civil disobedience during the Victorian gold rush with miners objecting to the expense of a miner’s licence, taxation via the licence without representation, and the actions of the government, the police and military. The local rebellion grew from a Ballarat Reform League movement and culminated in the erection by the rebels of a crude battlement and a swift and deadly siege by colonial forces.
When the captured rebels faced trial in Melbourne, mass public support led to their release and resulted in the introduction of the Electoral Act 1856, which mandated suffrage for male colonists in the lower house in the Victorian parliament. This is considered the second instituted act of political democracy in Australia. The Eureka Rebellion is controversially identified with the birth of democracy in Australia and interpreted by many as a political revolt. A dedicated museum in Ballarat, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, houses a flag which the miners designed and swore allegiance to before the battle. Known at the time as the “Australian flag”, it has become a national symbol, and is sometimes a candidate in debates about changing the Australian flag.
In 2015, a report commissioned by the City of Ballarat found that the most likely site of the rallies which led to the rebellion was 29 St. Paul’s Way, Bakery Hill. Given documentary evidence and its elevation, this was likely to be the site where speeches were made and the Eureka Flag was symbolically hoisted for the first time. As of 2018, the area is a carpark awaiting residential development. The precise site of the Stockade itself remains unknown, but William Bramwell Withers described its location in 1870: ‘It was an area of about an acre, rudely enclosed with slabs, and situated at the point where the Eureka Lead took its bend by the old Melbourne road, now called Eureka Street … The Site … lay about midway between what are now Stawell and Queen streets on the east and west, and close to Eureka Street on the south.’
Protests on the Goldfields (1851 to 1854)
Hiscock’s gold rush began on 12 August 1851 following the publication in the Geelong Advertiser of Thomas Hiscock’s gold findings at Hiscock’s, 3 kilometres west of Buninyong (now Magpie, approximately 10 kilometres south of Eureka). Just days later on 16 August 1851, Lieutenant-Governor Latrobe proclaimed in the Government Gazette crown rights for all mining proceeds and a licence fee of 30 shillings per month effective from 01 September 1851.
On 26 August, a rally of 40-50 miners opposing the fee was held at Hiscock’s gully – the first of many such protests in the colony. The miners opposed government policies of oppression including the licence fee, and put forward four resolutions to this effect. This first meeting was followed by dissent across the colony’s mining settlements.
In December the government announced that it intended to triple the licence fee from £1 to £3 a month, from 01 January 1852. This move incited protests around the colony, including the Forest Creek Monster Meeting of December 1851. In Ballarat, as historian Weston Bate noted, diggers became so agitated that they began to gather arms. The government hastily repealed its plans due to the reaction.
Nevertheless, the oppressive licence hunts continued and increased in frequency causing general dissent among the diggers. In addition, Weston Bate noted that the Ballarat diggings were in strong opposition to the strict liquor licensing laws imposed by the government.
Changes to the Goldfields Act in 1853 allowed licence searches to occur at any time which further incensed the diggers. In Bendigo in 1853, an Anti-Gold Licence Association was formed and the miners were apparently on the brink of an armed clash with authorities. Again in 1854, Bendigo miners responded to an increase in the frequency of twice weekly licence hunts with threats of armed rebellion.
Murder of James Scobie and the Burning of Bentley’s Hotel
On 07 October 1854, Scottish miner James Scobie was murdered at Bentley’s Eureka Hotel. Ten days later, on 17 October 1854, between 1,000 and 10,000 miners gathered at the hotel to protest the acquittal of James Bentley, the hotel proprietor and prime suspect in Scobie’s murder, by an allegedly corrupt magistrate.
The miners rioted and Bentley and his wife Catherine fled for their lives as the hotel was burnt down by the angry mob. A small group of soldiers were unable to suppress the riot.
On 22 October 1854, Ballarat Catholics met to protest the treatment of Father Smyth. The next day, the arrests of miners McIntyre and Fletcher for the Eureka Hotel fire provoked a mass meeting which attracted 4000 miners. The meeting resolved to establish a ‘Digger’s Rights Society’, to protect their rights. On 01 November 1854, 10,000 miners met once again at Bakery Hill. They were addressed by Thomas Kennedy, Henry Holyoake, George Black and Henry Ross. The diggers were further angered by the arrest of another seven of their number for the Eureka Hotel fire.
Ballarat Reform League
On Saturday, 11 November 1854 a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 miners gathered at Bakery Hill, directly opposite the government encampment. At this meeting, the Ballarat Reform League was created, under the chairmanship of Chartist John Basson Humffray. Several other Reform League leaders, including Kennedy and Holyoake, had been involved with the Chartist movement in England. Many of the miners had past involvement in the Chartist movement and the social upheavals in Britain, Ireland, and continental Europe during the 1840s.
In setting its goals, the Ballarat Reform League used the first five of the British Chartist movement’s principles as set out in the People’s Charter of 1838. They did not adopt or agitate for the Chartist’s sixth principle, secret ballots. The meeting passed a resolution “that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.” The meeting also resolved to secede from the United Kingdom if the situation did not improve.
Throughout the following weeks, the League sought to negotiate with Commissioner Robert Rede and the Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, on the specific matters relating to Bentley and the death of Scobie, the men being tried for the burning of the Eureka Hotel, the broader issues of abolition of the licence, suffrage and democratic representation of the gold fields, and disbanding of the Gold Commission. On 16 November 1854 Governor Hotham appointed a Royal Commission to address the gold miners’ problems and grievances. However, Commissioner Rede, rather than hear miners’ grievances, increased the police presence in the gold fields and summoned reinforcements from Melbourne. Many historians (most notably Manning Clark) attribute this to his belief in his right to exert authority over the “rabble.”
On 28 November 1854, the reinforcements marching from Melbourne were attacked by a crowd of miners. A number were injured. A rumour of the death of a drummer boy began, and there was even a memorial erected to him in Ballarat Cemetery for many years, although historical research has shown that the boy, John Egan, continued military service until dying in 1860.
At a meeting of about 12,000 ‘diggers’ on the following day, (29 November), the Reform League delegation relayed its failure to achieve any success in negotiations with the authorities. The miners resolved on open resistance to the authorities and to burn the hated licences. Local clergyman Theophilus Taylor recorded his impressions.
Today Ballaarat is thrown into great excitement by a monster meeting of the diggers, convened for the purpose of protesting against the Gold Digging Licences and their alleged grievances. At the head of the meeting appeared two Catholic priests Fathers Downing and Smith[Smyth]. It was resolved to resist government by burning licences which was done to a considerable extent.
Rede responded by ordering police to conduct a licence search on 30 November. Eight defaulters were arrested, and most of the military resources available had to be summoned to extricate the arresting officers from the angry mob that had assembled.
Clergyman Taylor’s account identified the rising tension.
This morning the police, as usual, made enquiries for Licences. They were resisted and a riot was raised. In consequence the troopers and military were called out and matters assumed a big serious aspect. A few were taken up and for a few hours the excitement subsided. Afternoon the mob had assembled and by evening had organised themselves into a gang of rebels.
This raid prompted a change in the leadership of the Reform League, to people who argued in favour of ‘physical force’ rather than the ‘moral force’ championed by Humffray and the old leadership.
Battle of the Eureka Stockade
Paramilitary Mobilisation and Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross
In the rising tide of anger and resentment amongst the miners, a more militant leader, Peter Lalor, was elected. In swift fashion, a military structure was assembled. Brigades were formed, and captains were appointed. Licences were burnt, and on 01 December at Bakery Hill, “The disaffected miners… held a meeting where at the Australian flag of independence was solemnly consecrated and vows proffered for its defence.”, with the ‘Eureka oath’ being sworn by Peter Lalor to the affirmation of his fellow demonstrators, who encamped themselves around the flag to resist further licence hunts and harassment by the authorities: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.”
The white and blue Eureka Flag, said to be designed by a Canadian miner, Captain Henry Ross, and bearing nothing but the Southern Cross, was then flown for the first (recorded) occasion; according to The Ballarat Times, which first mentioned the flag a week earlier on 24 November 1854, at “about eleven o’clock the ‘Southern Cross’ was hoisted, and its maiden appearance was a fascinating object to behold.” The flag was believed to have been sewn by Anastasia Hayes. Reportedly influenced by earlier designs such as the Australian Federation Flag, as a gesture of defiance, it deliberately excluded the British Union Flag, which is included in the official flag of Australia. The Eureka flag was commonly referred to at the time as the Australian flag, and as the Southern Cross, with The Age variously reporting, on 28 November: “The Australian flag shall triumphantly wave in the sunshine of its own blue and peerless sky, over thousands of Australia’s adopted sons”; the day after the battle: “They assembled round the Australian flag, which has now a permanent flag-staff”; and during the 1855 Eureka trials, that it was sworn that the Eureka flag was also known as the “digger’s flag” and also as “the Southern Cross”.
“Remember Vinegar Hill”: Irish Dimension Factors in Dwindling Numbers at Stockade
The Argus newspaper of 04 December 1854 reported that the Union Jack “had” to be hoisted underneath the Eureka flag at the stockade, and that both flags were by then in the possession of the foot police.
Some have questioned whether this sole contemporaneous report of the otherwise unaccounted for Union Jack being present is accurate. In defence of this alternative scenario it has been stressed that the investigating journalist may have had available eyewitness reports of the two flags having been seized, and that it was possibly an 11th hour response to the divided loyalties among the heterogeneous rebel force which was in the process of melting away (at one stage 1,500 of 17,280 men in Ballarat were present, with only 150 taking part in the battle), with Lalor’s choice of password for the night of 02 December – “Vinegar Hill” – causing support for the rebellion to fall away among those who were otherwise disposed to resist the military, as word spread that the question of Irish home rule had become involved.
Gregory Black, military historian and author of Eureka Stockade: A Ferocious and Bloody Battle, concedes two flags may have been flown on the day of the battle, as the miners were claiming to be defending their British rights, with a further article in The Argus on 09 December 1854, reporting that Constable Hugh King had found a Union Jack like flag being carried by a prisoner; and, according to The Eureka Encyclopedia, Sergeant John McNeil at the time shredded a flag at the Spencer Street Barracks in Melbourne, which was said to be the Eureka flag, but which may well have been a Union Jack.
It is certain that Irish-born people were strongly represented at the Eureka Stockade. Eureka historians have discovered that as well as comprising most of the miners inside the stockade at the finish, the area where the defensive position was established was overwhelmingly populated by the Irish to begin with. Professor Geoffrey Blainey has advanced the view, that the white cross behind the stars on the Eureka flag “really [is] an Irish cross rather than being [a] configuration of the Southern Cross”.
Departing Detachment of Independent Californian Rangers leaves Small Garrison Behind
During 02 December, the peak rebel force trained in and around the stockade. A further two hundred Americans, the Independent Californian Rangers, under the leadership of James McGill, arrived about 4:00 pm. The Americans were armed with revolvers and Mexican knives and possessed horses. In a fateful decision, McGill decided to take most of the Californian Rangers away from the stockade to intercept rumoured British reinforcements coming from Melbourne. Rede’s spies observed these actions. That night many of the miners went back to their own tents after the traditional Saturday night carousing, with the assumption that the Queen’s military forces would not be sent to attack on the Sabbath (Sunday). A small contingent of miners remained at the stockade overnight, which the spies reported to Rede.
The stockade itself was a ramshackle affair which was hastily constructed over the following days from timber and overturned carts. The structure was never meant to be a military stockade or fortress. In the words of Lalor: “it was nothing more than an enclosure to keep our own men together, and was never erected with an eye to military defence”. Lalor had already outlined a plan whereby, “if the government forces come to attack us, we should meet them on the Gravel Pits, and if compelled, we should retreat by the heights to the old Canadian Gully, and there we shall make our final stand”.
Siege of the Eureka Stockade
By the beginning of December, the police contingent at Ballarat had been joined and surpassed in number by soldiers from British Army garrisons in Victoria, including detachments from the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment of Foot and 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot.
At 3:00 am on Sunday 03 December, a party of 276 soldiers and police, under the command of Captain John W. Thomas approached the Eureka Stockade and a battle ensued.
There is no agreement as to which side fired first, but the battle was fierce, brief, and terribly one-sided. The ramshackle army of miners was hopelessly outclassed by a military regiment and was routed in about 10 minutes. Theophilus Taylor’s account is succinct. “A company of troopers & military carried the war into the enemies camp. In a very short time numbers were shot and hundreds taken prisoner”.
During the height of the battle, Lalor was shot in his left arm, took refuge under some timber and was smuggled out of the stockade and hidden. His arm was later amputated.
Stories tell how women ran forward and threw themselves over the injured to prevent further indiscriminate killing. The Commission of Inquiry would later say that it was “a needless as well as a ruthless sacrifice of human life indiscriminate of innocent or guilty, and after all resistance had disappeared.” Early in the battle “Captain” Henry Ross was shot dead.
According to Lalor’s report, fourteen miners (mostly Irish) died inside the stockade and an additional eight died later from injuries they sustained. A further dozen were wounded but recovered. Three months after the Eureka Stockade, Peter Lalor wrote: “As the inhuman brutalities practised by the troops are so well known, it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. There were 34 digger casualties of which 22 died. The unusual proportion of the killed to the wounded, is owing to the butchery of the military and troopers after the surrender.”
During the battle, trooper John King the police constable, took down the Eureka flag. By 8 am, Captain Charles Pasley, the second in command of the British forces, sickened by the carnage, saved a group of prisoners from being bayoneted and threatened to shoot any police or soldiers who continued with the slaughter. Pasley’s valuable assistance was acknowledged in despatches printed and laid before the Victorian Legislative Council.
One hundred and fourteen diggers, some wounded, were marched off to the Government camp about two kilometres away, where they were kept in an overcrowded lock-up, before being moved to a more spacious barn on Monday morning.
Martial law was declared throughout the camp on Monday, with no lights allowed in any tent after 8:00 pm. It was around this time an outbreak of gunfire reportedly occurred within the camp. Unrelated first-hand accounts state that variously, a woman, her infant child and several men were killed or wounded in an episode of indiscriminate shooting.
Of the soldiers and police, six were killed, including Captain Wise. News of the battle spread quickly to Melbourne and other gold field regions, turning a perceived Government military victory in repressing a minor insurrection into a public relations disaster. Thousands of people in Melbourne turned out to condemn the authorities, in defiance of their mayor and some Legislative Councillors, who tried to rally support for the government. In Ballarat, only one man responded to the call for special constables, although in Melbourne 1500 were sworn in and armed with batons. Many people voiced their support for the diggers’ requested reforms.
Exact numbers of deaths and injuries and persons are difficult to determine as many miners “fled to the surrounding bush and it is likely a good many more died a lonely death or suffered the agony of their wounds, hidden from the authorities for fear of repercussions.” according to Eureka researcher and author Dr Dorothy Wickham. The official register of deaths in the Ballarat District Register shows 27 names associated with the stockade battle at Eureka.
Reverend Taylor, in his account, estimated initially 100 deaths but reconsidered writing:
About 50 came at death by their folly. On the other side two soldiers killed and two officers wounded. The sight in the morning was truly appalling – Men lying dead slain by evil. The remedy is very lamentable but it appears it was necessary. It is hoped now rebellion will be checked.
Historian Clare Wright quotes one source, Thomas Pierson, who noted in the margin to his diary time has proved that near 60 have died of the diggers in all. According to Wright, Captain Thomas estimated that 30 diggers died on the spot and many more died of their wounds subsequently. Even the Geelong Advertiser on 08 December 1854 stated that deaths were “more numerous than originally supposed”.
While it has been thought all the deaths at Eureka were men, research by historian Clare Wright details that at least one woman lost her life in the massacre. Wright’s research details the important role of women on the goldfields and in the reform movement. Her book Forgotten Rebels of Eureka details how Charles Evans’ diary describes a funeral for a woman who was mercilessly butchered by a mounted trooper while pleading for the life of her husband during the Eureka massacre. Her name and the fate and identity of her husband remain unknown.
Aftermath and Legacy
Historian Geoffrey Blainey has commented, “Every government in the world would probably have counter-attacked in the face of the building of the stockade.” For a few weeks it appeared that the status quo had been restored, and Rede ruled the camps with an iron fist.
Reverend Theophilus Taylor’s observations were:
4 Dec. Quiet reigned through the day. Evening thrown into alarm by a volley of musketry fired by the sentries. The cause, it appears, was the firing into the camps by some one unknown…… 5 Dec. Martial Law proclaimed, Major-General Sir Robert Nickle arrived with a force of 1000 soldiers. The Reign of Terror commences.
His note about a ‘reign of terror’ proved unjustified. Sir Robert Nickle was a wise, considered and even-handed military commander who calmed the tensions. Miner and diarist Charles Evans recorded the effect of his conduct as follows:
Sir Robert Nichol [sic] has taken the reins of power at the Camp. Already there is a sensible and gratifying deference in its appearance. The old General went round unattended to several tents early this morning & made enquiries from the diggers relative to the cause of the outbreak. It is very probable from the humane & temperate course he is taking that he will establish himself in the goodwill of the people.
On 07 December, Theophilus Taylor met with Nickle and “found him to be a very affable and kind gentleman”.
Trial for Sedition and High Treason
The first trial relating to the rebellion was a charge of sedition against Henry Seekamp of the Ballarat Times. Seekamp was arrested in his newspaper office on 04 December 1854, for a series of articles that appeared in the Ballarat Times. Many of these articles were written by George Lang, the son of the prominent republican and Presbyterian Minister of Sydney, the Reverend John Dunmore Lang. He was tried and convicted of seditious libel by a Melbourne jury on 23 January 1855 and, after a series of appeals, sentenced to six months imprisonment on 23 March. He was released from prison on 28 June 1855, precisely three months early. While he was in jail, Henry Seekamp’s de facto wife, Clara Seekamp took over the business, and became the first female editor of an Australian newspaper.
Of the approximately 120 ‘diggers’ detained after the rebellion, thirteen were brought to trial. They were:
- Timothy Hayes, Chairman of the Ballarat Reform League, from Ireland.
- James McFie Campbell, a man of unknown African ancestry from Kingston, Jamaica.
- Raffaello Carboni, an Italian and trusted lieutenant who was in charge of the European diggers as he spoke a few European languages. Carboni self-published his account of the Eureka Stockade a year after the Stockade, the only comprehensive eyewitness account.
- Jacob Sorenson, a Jewish man from Scotland.
- John Manning, a Ballarat Times journalist, from Ireland.
- John Phelan, a friend and business partner of Peter Lalor, from Ireland.
- Thomas Dignum, born in Sydney.
- John Joseph, an African American from New York City or Baltimore, United States.
- James Beattie, from Ireland.
- William Molloy, from Ireland.
- Jan Vennick, from the Netherlands.
- Michael Tuohy, from Ireland.
- Henry Reid, from Ireland.
The first trial started on 22 February 1855, with defendants being brought before the court on charges of high treason. Joseph was one of three Americans arrested at the stockade, with the United States Consul intervening for the release of the other two Americans. The prosecution was handled by Attorney-General William Stawell representing the Crown before Chief Justice William à Beckett. The jury deliberated for about half an hour before returning a verdict of “not guilty”. “A sudden burst of applause arose in the court” reported The Argus, but was instantly checked by court officers. The Chief Justice condemned this as an attempt to influence the jury, as it could be construed that a jury could be encouraged to deliver a verdict that would receive such applause; he sentenced two men (identified by the Crown Solicitor as having applauded) to a week in prison for contempt. It has been estimated that over 10,000 people had come to hear the jury’s verdict. John Joseph was carried around the streets of Melbourne in a chair in triumph, according to the Ballarat newspaper The Star.
Under the auspices of Victorian Chief Justice Redmond Barry, all the other 13 accused men were rapidly acquitted to great public acclaim. The trials have on several occasions been called a farce. Rede himself was quietly removed from the camps and reassigned to an insignificant position in rural Victoria.
Commission of Enquiry
When Hotham’s Royal Commission report, initiated before the conflict, was finally handed down it was scathing in its assessment of all aspects of the administration of the gold fields, and particularly the Eureka Stockade affair. 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.”
The report made several major recommendations, one of which was to restrict Chinese immigration. Its recommendations were only put into effect after the Stockade. The gold licences were then abolished, and replaced by an annual miner’s right and an export fee based on the value of the gold. Mining wardens replaced the gold commissioners, and police numbers were cut drastically. The Legislative Council was expanded to allow representation to the major goldfields. Peter Lalor and John Basson Humffray were elected for Ballarat, although there were property qualifications with regards to eligibility to vote in upper house elections in Victoria until the 1950s. After 12 months, all but one of the demands of the Ballarat Reform League had been granted. Lalor and Humffray both enjoyed distinguished careers as politicians, with Lalor later elected as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria.
Following the battle, rebel leader, Irish Australian Peter Lalor, wrote in a statement to the colonists of Victoria, “There are two things connected with the late outbreak (Eureka) 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.”
Lalor stood for Ballaarat in the 1855 elections and was elected unopposed.
During a speech 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.”
The actual significance of Eureka upon Australia’s politics is not decisive. It has been variously interpreted as a revolt of free men against imperial tyranny, of independent free enterprise against burdensome taxation, of labour against a privileged ruling class, or as an expression of republicanism. In his 1897 travel book Following the Equator, American writer Mark Twain wrote of the Eureka Rebellion:
… I think it may be called the finest thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution – small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression. … It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. It adds an honourable page to history; the people know it and are proud of it. They keep green the memory of the men who fell at the Eureka stockade, and Peter Lalor has his monument.
Raffaello Carboni, who was present at the Stockade, wrote that “amongst the foreigners … there was no democratic feeling, but merely a spirit of resistance to the licence fee”; and he also disputes the accusations “that have branded the miners of Ballarat as disloyal to their QUEEN” (emphasis as in the original). The affair continues to raise echoes in Australian politics to the present day, and from time to time one group or another calls for the existing Australian flag to be replaced by the Eureka Flag.
Some historians believe that the prominence of the event in the public record has come about because Australian history does not include a major armed rebellion phase equivalent to the French Revolution, the English Civil War, or the American War of Independence, making the Eureka story inflated well beyond its real significance. Others, however, maintain that Eureka was a seminal event and that it marked a major change in the course of Australian history.
In 1980, historian Geoffrey Blainey drew attention to the fact that many miners were temporary migrants from Britain and the United States, who did not intend to settle permanently in Australia. He wrote:
Nowadays it is common to see the noble Eureka flag and the rebellion of 1854 as the symbol of Australian independence, of freedom from foreign domination; but many saw the rebellion in 1854 as an uprising by outsiders who were exploiting the country’s resources and refusing to pay their fair share of taxes. So we make history do its handsprings.
In 1999, the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, dismissed the Eureka Stockade as a “protest without consequence”. Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson made the Eureka flag a federal election campaign issue in 2004 saying “I think people have tried to make too much of the Eureka Stockade…trying to give it a credibility and standing that it probably doesn’t enjoy.”
In 2004, the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, delivered an opening address at the Eureka 150 Democracy Conference stating “that Eureka was about the struggle for basic democratic rights. It was not about a riot – it was about rights.”
The materials used to build the stockade were rapidly removed to be used for the mines, and the entire area around the site was so extensively worked that the original landscape became unrecognisable, so identifying the exact location of the stockade is now virtually impossible.
A diggers’ memorial was erected in the Ballarat Cemetery on 22 March 1856 near marked graves. Sculpted in stone from the Barrabool Hills by James Leggatt in Geelong it features a pillar bearing the names of the deceased miners and bearing the inscription “Sacred to the memory of those who fell on the memorable 3 December 1854, in resisting the unconstitutional proceedings of the Victorian Government.”
A soldiers’ memorial was erected many years later in 1876 and is an obelisk constructed of limestone sourced from Waurn Ponds with the words “Victoria” and “Duty” carved in its north and south faces respectively. In 1879 a cast-iron fence was added to the memorials and graves.
Over the next thirty years, press interest in the events that had taken place at the Eureka Stockade dwindled, but Eureka was kept alive at the campfires and in the pubs, and in memorial events in Ballarat. In addition, key figures such as Lalor and Humfray were still in the public eye.
Eureka had not been forgotten: it was readily remembered. Similar flags have been flown at rebellions since including a flag similar to the Eureka flag which was flown above the Barcaldine strike camp in the 1891 Australian shearers’ strike.
In 1889, Melbourne businessmen employed renowned American cyclorama artist Thaddeus Welch, who teamed up with local artist Izett Watson to paint 1,000 square feet (93 m2) of canvas of the Eureka Stockade, wrapped around a wooden structure. When it opened in Melbourne, the exhibition was an instant hit. The Age reported in 1891 that “it afforded a very good opportunity for people to see what it might have been like at Eureka”. The Australasian wrote “that many persons familiar with the incidents depicted, were able to testify to the fidelity of the painted scene”. The people of Melbourne flocked to the cyclorama, paid up and had their picture taken before it. It was eventually dismantled and disappeared from sight.
Memorials to soldiers and miners are located in the Ballaarat Old Cemetery and the Eureka Stockade Memorial is located within the Eureka Stockade Gardens and is listed on the Australian National Heritage List.
In 1954, the centenary of the event was officially celebrated; according to Geoffrey Blainey, who was in attendance, no one, apart from a small group of communists, was there. Plays commemorating the events were held at major theatres.
A purpose built Interpretation centre was erected in 1998 in suburb of Eureka near the site of the stockade. Designed to be a new landmark for Ballarat, the building featured an enormous sail emblazoned with the Eureka Flag. Before its development there was considerable debate over whether a replica or reconstruction of wooden structures was appropriate, however it was eventually decided against and this is seen by many as a reason for the apparent failure of the centre to draw significant tourist numbers. Due primarily to falling visitor numbers the centre was redeveloped between 2009 and 2011.
In 1992, Sovereign Hill commenced a commemorative son et lumière known as “Blood Under the Southern Cross” which became a tourist drawcard and was revised and expanded from 2003. In 2004, the 150th anniversary was celebrated. An Australian postage stamp featuring the Eureka Flag was released along with a set of commemorative coins. A ceremony in Ballarat known as the lantern walk was held at dawn. However, Prime Minister John Howard did not attend any commemorative events, and refused to allow the flag to fly over Parliament House.
In November 2004 then Premier of Victoria Steve Bracks announced that the Ballarat V/Line rail service would be renamed the Eureka Line to mark the 150th anniversary to take effect from late 2005 at the same time as a renaming of Spencer Street station to Southern Cross, however the proposal was criticised by community groups including the Public Transport Users Association. Renaming of the line did not go ahead, however Spencer Street (railway) Station did become Southern Cross Station on 13 December 2005 with Bracks stating the name would resonate with Victorians because it “stands for democracy and freedom because it flew over the Eureka Stockade”.
Eureka Tower, completed in 2006 is named in honour of the event and features symbolic aspects in its design including an architectural red stripe representing the blood spilled during the battle.
The site of the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat is currently being redeveloped with the support of grants from the City of Ballarat and the Victorian and Federal Governments. It will feature the new Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) that will draw on the touchstone of Eureka and its newly restored flag, and put the Eureka Stockade into the context of 260 years of democracy.
M.A.D.E.’s highly interactive exhibition, based on the premise of People + Power = Democracy, is expected to open in early 2013, followed by a national rollout of public onsite and online programs.
Deputy Premier, the Hon. Peter Ryan, told the Legislative Assembly, sitting in Ballarat in 2012, that M.A.D.E. would be “a magnificent tribute to the events” of the Eureka Stockade.
The Museum’s M.A.D.E. You Look booklet says M.A.D.E will be ‘an online platform and immersive museum with a refreshing approach to culture, civics, history and citizenship. M.A.D.E puts the past into a contemporary context, celebrates Australia’s achievements and inspires new ways of thinking about issues like equality, freedom of speech, parliamentary representation and the rule of law’. The museum ‘will ignite debate about what it means to be an effective Australian in the 21st Century’.
In Popular Culture
- The Eureka Stockade is referenced in several poems by Henry Lawson including “Flag of the Southern Cross” (1887), “Eureka (A Fragment)” (1889), “The Fight at Eureka Stockade” (1890), and “Freedom on the Wallaby” (1891).
- The original version of Marcus Clarke’s classic novel, His Natural Life, serialised in the Australian Journal between 1870 and 1872, includes a fictionalised account of the Eureka rebellion.
Film and Television
Eureka Stockade (1907), directed by Arthur and George Cornwell and produced by the Australasian Cinematograph Company, was the second feature film made in Australia (the first being the 1906 production, The Story of the Kelly Gang). The film was first screened on 19 October 1907 at the Melbourne Athenaeum. The film impressed critics of the time and was found to be a stirring portrayal of the events surrounding the Eureka Stockade, but failed to connect with audiences during the two weeks it was screened. The surviving seven-minute fragment (stored at the National Film and Sound Archive) shows street scenes of Ballarat. Other scenes in the lost reels of the film were believed to have included gold seekers leaving London, issuing of licences, licence hunting, diggers chained to logs and rescued by mates, diggers burning Bentley’s Hotel, the Rebellion, building the stockade, troops storming the stockade and the stockade in ruins.
The Loyal Rebel, also known as Eureka Stockade, is an Australian silent film made in 1915. Directed by Alfred Rolfe, it starred Maisie Carte, Wynn Davies, Reynolds Denniston, Charles Villiers, Percy Walshe, Jena Williams, and Leslie Victor as Peter Lalor. It is considered a lost film.
A 1949 British film, titled Eureka Stockade (released in the United States as Massacre Hill), was shot in Australia. The film starred Chips Rafferty as Peter Lalor, and Peter Illing as Raffaello Carboni. It was directed by Harry Watt, produced by Leslie Norman and written by Walter Greenwood, Ralph Smart and Harry Watt.
Stockade, a 1971 Australian musical film featuring Rod Mullinar as Peter Lalor, was directed by Hans Pomeranz and Ross McGregor. The film was written by Kenneth Cook, adapted from his musical play.
Eureka Stockade was a two-part television mini-series which aired on the Seven Network in 1984. starring Bryan Brown as Peter Lalor. Directed by Rod Hardy, produced by Henry Crawford and written by Tom Hegarty. The cast included Carol Burns, Bill Hunter and Brett Cullen.
Riot or Revolution: Eureka Stockade 1854, an Australian documentary from 2006, directed by Don Parham. The film focuses mainly on Governor Sir Charles Hotham (played by Brian Lipson), Raffaello Carboni (Barry Kay), and Douglas Huyghue (Tim Robertson). The accounts of these eyewitnesses are the main source for the monologues directly aimed at the audience, and, as the caption at the start of the film says: “the lines spoken by actors in this film are the documented words of the historical characters.” The cast also included Julia Zemiro as Celeste de Chabrillan and Andrew Larkins as Peter Lalor. It was filmed in Ballarat and Toorac House in Melbourne.
Stockade, a musical play by Kenneth Cook and Patricia Cook, was first performed at Sydney’s Independent Theatre in 1971. It was the basis for the film Stockade.
Carboni is a dramatisation by John Romeril of Raffaello Carboni’s eyewitness account of the Eureka Rebellion. It was first performed in 1980 by the Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory in Melbourne, with Bruce Spence in the title role.
Eureka Stockade, a three-act opera with music by Roberto Hazon and a libretto by John Picton-Warlow and Carlo Stransky, was completed in 1988.
The musical Eureka premiered in Melbourne in 2004 at Her Majesty’s Theatre. With music by Michael Maurice Harvey, book and lyrics by Gale Edwards and John Senczuk and original book and lyrics by Maggie May Gordon, Eureka was nominated for the Helpmann Award for Best Musical in 2005.