Eureka Stockade

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Eureka Stockade is the common name given to the rebellion in 1854 by miners at the Eureka goldfields of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. Since 1851 the miners had been seeking changes to mining licensing and an end to its corrupt administration under the colonial authorities, as well as voting rights and representation.

In August 1853 Lieutenant Governor C.J. La Trobe was presented with a petition signed by over 5000 miners highlighting the hardships and injustices on the goldfields, including denials of due process of law.

In October 1854 a drunken miner, James Scobie, was beaten to death. James and Catherine Bentley, the owners of the Eureka Hotel, and some their staff were implicated but an inquest found that there was insufficient evidence to charge them. A judicial inquiry was later held, presided over by Gold Fields Commissioner Robert Rede, Police Magistrate John Dewes and Assistant Commissioner Johnston. During an adjournment of the hearing James Bentley went to Magistrate Dewes office, and when the hearing reconvened Dewes and Rede announced that the accused were to be discharged. A mob of miners rioted and burned down the Eureka Hotel, forcing the Bentleys to flee for their lives. The miners continued their violence while the arsonists were on trial and there was at least one skirmish with troops sent to keep order, during which the regimental drummer boy was wounded.

Trials were held for both the death of Scobie and the arson of the Eureka Hotel. On 20 November James Bentley, William Hance and Thomas Farrell (both staff of the hotel), were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 3 years hard labour. On the same day 3 of the rioters (Andrew McIntyre, Thomas Fletcher and Henry Westerby) were found guilty of riot and “pulling down a dwelling house” and sentenced to 3, 4 and 6 months respectively, which were considered to be quite lenient sentences.

On 30 November a licence hunt at the “Gravel Pits” was met by a large number of defiant miners and a riot ensued, resulting in a number of injuries and arrests. On 1 or 2 December rebelling miners fortified about an acre of the Eureka goldfield (the 'stockade'), and prepared for armed resistance to licence hunts. Early on the morning of 3 December 1854 government troops overwhelmed the stockade. During the battle 22 miners and 5 government troops were killed. Although Peter Lalor and other leaders of the rebellion escaped arrest, approximately 100 of the men at the stockade were arrested. All but 13 of these were then released due to lack of evidence. The remaining 13 were tried for treason, but the juries acquitted all of them.[1]

One of the leaders, Peter Lalor, later became a member of the Victorian parliament.[2]

The Southern Cross flag raised by the miners has become an icon of defiance and solidarity in Australia, and is a favoured icon of the Australian Labour Union movement.