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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Eureka Stockade, Ballarat

Because Eureka Stockade was such an important event in our history, a visit to the Eureka Centre in Ballarat is a must.

Gold was discovered at Ballarat in 1851 and thousands of men and women with an adventurous spirit flocked to the goldfields to live in tents and pursue their dream of striking it rich.

In September 1851 the Victorian government introduced a gold licence to pay the wages of police and other essential services like roads. The licence cost 30 shillings a month and miners were fined 5 pounds for the first time you were found without it, 15 pounds the second time and up to 30 pounds the third time. Many were living in poverty and couldn’t afford a licence and would head for the hills when police came around checking to see if you had one.

The miners finally got organised and voted Peter Lalor, an Irishman, as their Commander in Chief. They drew up The Ballarat Reform League and made a list of demands.

The removal of the gold licence;
The right to vote for the people in power;
The right to be represented in government;
To scrap the rule that you had to own property to be a member of Parliament.

The authorities refused all demands and more soldiers were sent and licence inspections were increased to twice a week instead of once.

Frustrated, and with the newly designed flag of the Southern Cross flying above them, the diggers, led by Lalor, knelt and took a solemn oath - “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties”. They then left to construct the stockade.

At dawn on Sunday 3rd December 1854, 296 well armed soldiers and police attacked approximately 150 diggers. Of course, it was an absolute route, 30 men, most of them diggers, died at the battle.

Peter Lalor’s arm was damaged in the melee but he escaped to the home of Father Smyth in Ballarat where his arm was amputated, he was then taken to Geelong where he was cared for by Alicia Dunn who he later married.

A reward was placed on Lalor’s head but was later revoked and the 13 diggers charged with “high treason” and placed on trial in Melbourne were found not guilt and released. This bloody event brought about major reforms which were then introduced.

Ironically Peter Lalor ended up on the other side - in politics. He held the seat of North Grenville and later stood for and won the seat of South Grant. In 1875 he became Commissioner for Customs in the Berry government and in 1880 he became Speaker.

Strolling through the Eureka Centre I was taken with the photo of Bridget Hynes, an eye witness to the event.

Born Bridget Nolan at Monivea County, Galway, Ireland
Arrived Point Henry Geelong 5th June 1852 on the Mangerton
Married Thomas Hynes 2/10/1854 at St Alipius Church, Ballarat East
Priest: Patrick Smythe (the same priest who helped save Peter Lalor's life)
Best man Patrick Gittins (died at Eureka).

She was 23 years old and lived in a tent at Black Hill, close to the Stockade. At 4am on Sunday 3/12/1854 she hid her husband's pike (home made weapon) and his pants and ran towards the sound of gun fire at the Stockade.

She and some other women screamed "He's dead" as they threw themselves across the bodies of the wounded diggers, protecting them from the bayonets of the soldiers.

She and her husband Tom went on to become farmers and reared eleven children.
Quite a story.