Thursday, 30 May 2013

Gold in Victoria: Chinese immigration

During the 1840s and 1850s, the discovery of major gold reserves in northern California, Victoria and later British Columbia and New Zealand transformed the European settler societies of the Pacific Rim. [1] Many of the international gold seekers of the 1850s and 1860s followed the gold rushes to Victoria and Chinese gold seekers, mostly from southern China, were key members of all these rushes. The southern provinces were overpopulated and subject to invasions, rebellions, severe floods and famines between 1830 and 1887. The greatest numbers of Chinese came to the colony of Victoria from 1852 onwards. The first Chinese seeking gold arrived in 1853 and in 1854 there were 2,000 Chinese in Victoria. By June 1855 this had grown to 15,000. In 1858 the Chinese population of Australia reached a peak of 40,000, representing roughly 20 per cent of the adult male population and 3.3 per cent of the total population. The Chinese largely settled in the key goldfields centres of Bendigo, Ballarat and Castlemaine and brought with them their distinctive way of life and specialised mining techniques.

Chap 2 Chinese

In 1855, Victoria levied a £10 poll-tax on all Chinese entering by sea leading to many of them landed at Guischen Bay near Robe in South Australia. [2] The routes to the mining areas of Ballarat, Bendigo and Mount Alexander were most arduous part of this journey and Chinese gold seekers were the largest group of non-English speaking diggers on the Australian goldfields. [3] The full extent of the Chinese role in the emergent central Victorian goldfields society has only recently been recognised. Although best known for their role in the gold mining industry, they were involved in other activities on the goldfields working as herbalists, merchants, and restaurateurs. As a cultural group they stood out because most retained their identity and customs and the ‘Chinese question’ began to vie with the other major issue of the day, the ‘unlocking’ of Crown Lands. European miners were angered by their increasing presence in the fields and in 1854, an irritated group of European and American miners met in Bendigo and declared that a ‘general and unanimous rising should take place for the purpose of driving the Chinese off the goldfield’. Local constables acted quickly to prevent the uprising and warned the miners against any further vigilante action. The event was only the beginning of greater anti-Chinese tensions. In some instances, full-scale rioting resulted as angry Europeans attacked Chinese diggers for example at Buckland River in Victoria in 1857 and Lambing Flat in NSW in 1860-1861. [4]

Chap 5 Lambing Flats riot


[1] ‘The Chinese’, in ibid, Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people, pp. 197-204; Curthoys, Ann, ‘Men of All Nations, except Chinamen’: Europeans and Chinese on the Goldfields of New South Wales’, in McCalman, Iain, Cook, Alexander, and Reeves, Andrew, (eds.), Gold: forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia, (Cambridge University Press), 2001, pp. 100-123, and Lake, Marilyn and Reynolds, Henry, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality, (Cambridge University Press), 2008, pp. 15-47.

[2] The South Australia Parliament soon passed similar legislation to Victoria and over 10,000 Chinese were landed in southern NSW, who mostly made their way to Victoria.

[3] The experience of Chinese gold-seekers in Victoria during the 1850s can be explored in Daley, C., ‘The Chinese in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Magazine, Vol. 14, (1931-1932), pp. 23-35; Serle, pp. 320-335; Price. C., The Great White Walls are Built: Restrictive Immigration to North America and Australasia 1836-1888, Canberra, 1974; Markus, A., Fear and Hatred: Purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, Sydney, 1979; Gittins, J., The Diggers from China: The Story of the Chinese on the Goldfields, (Melbourne University Press), 1981; Curthoys, Ann, ‘’Men of All Nations, except Chinamen’: Europeans and Chinese on the Goldfields of New South Wales’, in McCalman, Iain, Cook, Alexander and Reeves, Andrew, (eds.), Gold, pp. 100-123, passim, and Cronin, K., Colonial Casualties: Chinese in Early Australia, (Melbourne University Press), 1982. McLaren, Ian F., The Chinese in Victoria: Official Reports and Documents, (Red Rooster Press), 1985, is an invaluable study including critical sources from the 1850s.

[4] Reeves, Keir and Wong Hoy, Kevin, ‘Beyond a European protest: reappraising Chinese agency on the Victorian goldfields’, in Mayne, Alan, (ed.), Eureka: Reappraising an Australian Legend, (Network), 2006, pp. 153-174, is a crucial revisionist contribution to discussions of the Chinese in Victoria in the 1850s. There is a growing literature on Lambing Flat: Carrington, D. L., ‘Riots at Lambing Flat 1860-1861’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 46, (1960), pp. 223-243; Walker, R. B., ‘Another Look at the Lambing Flat Riots 1860-1861’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 56, (1970), pp. 193-205; Selth, P., ‘The Burrangong (Lambing Flat) Riots 1860-61: A Closer Look’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 60, (1974), pp. 48-69; Connolly, C. N., ‘Miners’ Rights: Explaining the ‘Lambing Flat’ Riots of 1860-61’, in Curthoys, A., and Markus, A., (eds.), Who are Our Enemies? Racism and the Australian Working class, (Neutral Bay), 1978, pp. 35-47, and Messner, Andrew, ‘Popular Constitutionalism and Chinese Protest on the Victoria Goldfields’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 2, (2), (2000), pp. 63-78.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Terrorism in London

Under no circumstances can anyone justify the appalling act of wanton brutality that unfolded in Woolwich this week.  The murder of an off-duty soldier and the actions of his killers after his murder and before they unsuccessfully sought death from the guns of the Metropolitan Police should bring home to the public the sacrifice of the British army in its long campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.  That a soldier who had served bravely in different theatres was then chosen, presumably at random, by his killers and died on the streets of London makes his death even more horrific.  Soldiers face the risk of death or injury on the battlefield; they do not expect it at home as his wife eloquently expressed it in yesterday’s family news conference.

Drummer Lee Rigby

What has concerned me in the last two days has been the wall-to-wall news coverage of what happened and why.  In a world of 24/7 news this is hardly surprising but has it all been necessary and who has it been for?  The difficulty for the media is that much of what is know or not know is inevitably speculative.  For instance, according to a friend, one of the killers was been approached by MI5 for information or even, according to today’s Times to act as a covert agent.  Or what happened was or was not part of a broader conspiracy.  What did MI5 know and why did it not act?  These are legitimate issues for investigation, and the inquiry set up by the Prime Minister will undoubtedly do so, but are they are questions that have almost endlessly and fairly fruitlessly been speculated about in the media?  The problem with speculation on terrorism is that it gives succour to all shades of extremists and, perhaps more importantly given their actions the oxygen of publicity.   We do not know why the killers decided to act as they did, other than their distorted view of Islam, and we will probably never know.  While the public wants to know about events such as this, it is important to distinguish between the facts of the case, people’s opinions and speculation and this distinction is not always clear in the media coverage.  I sometimes wonder whether it would be better if there was less speculation in the media on terrorist questions, a vain hope perhaps in an age of social networking and extensive media coverage, since it can lead to neglect of what is a human tragedy.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Gold in Victoria: British immigrants

Migration was common among many Cornish people and, in the nineteenth century, an estimated third of Cornwall’s population emigrated. [1] They were often pulled to countries such as Australia by news of mining work or pushed from their homes by a variety of factors including poverty, famine (the potato crop failed in Cornwall in 1845 and 1846), depression and economic change. [2] Between 1846 and 1850, 6,700 assisted Cornish immigrants went to Australia.[3] The Cornish were a significant ethnic group on the Victorian goldfields because of their number and, like Welsh immigrants, the mining knowledge they brought with them. Some of the distinctively Cornish mining practices established in the Victorian goldfields developed from the equipment and techniques favoured by Cornish miners: single-pointed picks; bucket pumps; the ‘hammer and tap’ method of drilling holes in the rock face; the ‘Cousin Jack’ wheelbarrow; and Cornish-designed whims are examples.

The first Cornish arrivals on the Victorian goldfields travelled overland from South Australia and its copper mines where they had originally emigrated in the late 1830s and 1840s. Letters home played a powerful role in spreading news of opportunities for Cornish miners in Australia. In 1849, a mining man wrote home to Cornwall from Australia

If...you may know of any Government [assisted] Cornish miner about to seek his fortune in Australia, be pleased to tell him to apply his knowledge of the mode of extracting his ore from his own gravel to the drift and debris on the flanks of the great north and south chain of Australia...for great would be my pleasure to learn that through the application of Cornish skill such a region should be converted into a British El Dorado.

The South Australian town of Burra Burra was a significant Cornish settlement and most of its 5,000 residents in 1850 were Cornish. [4] From 1851, the Burra’s copper mines lost many of their workers to Victoria’s gold rushes.  A deputation of Cornish miners from Burra Burra visited the goldfields to ascertain their worth, and when they returned to the Burra to collect their families and belongings, their enthusiastic descriptions of Victoria precipitated a mass exodus from the South Australian mines.[5]

The next wave of Cornish miners did not begin to arrive from Cornwall until the end of 1852. [6] The Ballarat area received many ‘Cousin Jacks’ who congregated in particular areas: Mt Pleasant was an important Cornish settlement and Sebastopol had its own ‘Cornish Town’. [7] Cornish miners and their families travelled together, lived in close proximity and worked co-operatively in groups, a distinctively Cornish mining practice. Jan Croggon showed that the mining skills and knowledge that the Cornish immigrants in Ballarat brought with them prepared some of them to become managers of mines in Victoria as the alluvial rushes ended in the mid-1850s. [8]

Irish immigration increased with the discovery of gold. [9] Initially their lack of mining skills was not a problem since alluvial mining required little expertise. [10] However, as surface deposits of gold were exhausted and alluvial mining gave way to deep, shaft mining, mining skills became essential. Lacking these, the numerous Irish on the goldfields became a ready source of unskilled labour for large-scale mining. For the vast majority a short, fruitless stint as a miner soon gave way to more profitable occupations as grocers, publicans, cartage operators, brewers, domestic workers, policemen and general labourers and the wealth of available work meant that many of the Irish enjoyed a standard of living far exceeding their experience in Ireland. They had a large impact on the goldfields communities that sprang up if only because of their numbers and quickly earned a reputation for their colour and flamboyance on the diggings. Nonetheless, political discontent was never far from the surface and of the diggers that took part in the 1854 Eureka rebellion, one witness at the Gold Fields Commission claimed that, ‘quite half of them were Irishmen’.

Many Scots and Welsh emigrated to Australia and played an important part in the development of Victoria. [11] For example, William Campbell arrived in Australia in 1838 and discovered the ‘first’ gold at Clunes in early 1850; Scottish diggers played leading roles in the Red Ribbon Movement; James Scobie’s murder was a catalyst for the events at the Eureka Stockade in December 1854, and a Scot, John Robertson, was killed at Eureka. Australia became a particularly popular destination after the discovery of gold with approximately 100,000 Scots arriving between 1851 and 1860. [12] Many headed for the Victorian diggings and contributed to the new towns and communities emerging in the interior of the colony. As gold fever took hold in Victoria, many of the squatters who were faced with threats to their livelihoods with the exodus of workers to the diggings, were immigrant Scottish landholders and farmers who had been ‘pushed’ to migrate earlier in the century by rising rents and the high cost of new agricultural techniques. The Scottish immigrants in Victoria helped to build its infrastructure while ensuring that elements of Scottish culture endured in the new colony. Presbyterian churches and schools, funded by Scottish squatters and highland games and pipe bands sprang up in towns such as Ballarat.[13] Detailed reports of gold arriving in Britain, fresh from the Victorian goldfields and excited letters home from expatriate diggers were published in the local press playing a major role in encouraging migration to Australia although a high proportion of Scottish arrivals during the 1850s were assisted migrants: 51% received assistance compared with 25% from England.


[1] Schwartz, Sharron, ‘Cornish migration studies: an epistemological and paradigmatic critique’, Cornish Studies, Vol. 10, (2002), pp. 136-165, provides an excellent framework.

[2] Payton, Philip, ‘Cornish’, in ibid, Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people, pp. 237-245, and his broader The Cornish Overseas, (Alexander Associates), 1999, pp. 161-200, 228-255, provide a good introduction to the Cornish diaspora while his The Cornish Miner in Australia, (Dyllansow Truran), 1984, is the most detailed study. Croggan, Jan, ‘Methodists and Miners: the Cornish in Ballarat 1851-1901’, in Cardell, Kerry, and Cummings, Cliff, (eds.), A world turned upside down: cultural change on Australia’s goldfields 1851-2001, (Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University), 2001, pp. 61-77.

[3] Lay, Patricia, ‘Not what they seemed? Cornish assisted immigrants in New South Wales 1837-1877’, Cornish Studies, Vol. 3, (1995), pp. 33-59.

[4] Auhl, Ian, and Marfleet, Denis, Australia’s Earliest Mining Era: South Australia 1841-1851, (Rigby), 1975 and Auhl, Ian, The Story of the ‘Monster Mine’: The Burra Burra Mine and Its Townships 1845-1877, (Investigator Press), 1986.

[5] South Australian Register, 19 July 1851

[6] Payton, Philip, ‘Cousin Jacks and Ancient Britons’: Cornish Immigrants and Ethnic Identity’, Journal of Australian Studies: Scatterlings of Empire, Vol. 68, (2001), pp. 54-68.

[7] Rich gold-bearing quartz lodes were found in the bedrock under the buried streams of the Ballarat plateau in 1856 and a new settlement, mainly of Cornish and Welsh miners, developed on the Yarrowee Creek. Sebastopol grew rapidly in the late 1850s and its population rose from 2,149 in 1857 to 6,496 in 1871.

[8] Jan Croggan ‘Methodists and Miners: The Cornish in Ballarat 1851-1901’, in Cardell, Kerry, and Cummings, Cliff, (eds.), A world turned upside down, pp. 61-77, passim.

[9] Ibid, O’Farrell, Patrick, The Irish in Australia, ibid, McConville, Chris, Croppies, Celts & Catholic: The Irish in Australia and ibid, Fitzpatrick, David, Oceans of consolation: personal accounts of Irish migration to Australia. See above, pp. 222-264.

[10] Coughlan, Neil, ‘The Coming of the Irish to Victoria’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, Vol. 12, (1965), pp. 64-86, and ‘The Irish, in Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people, pp. 443-478, passim.

[11] Jones, Bill, ‘Welsh Identities in Colonial Ballarat’, Journal of Australian Studies: Scatterlings of Empire, Vol. 68, (2001), pp. 34-53, and ‘Welsh identity on the Victorian goldfields in the nineteenth century’, in Cardell, Kerry, and Cummings, Cliff, (eds.), A world turned upside down, pp. 25-50.

[12] Macmillan, D. S., Scotland and Australia, 1788-1850: emigration, commerce and investment, (Oxford University Press), 1967, ‘The Scots’, in ibid, Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people, pp. 644-665, and Prentice, Malcolm D., The Scots in Australia: A Study of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland 1788-1900, (University of Sydney Press), 1983, provide the context.

[13] Cardell, Kerry and Cummings, Cliff, ‘Squatters, Diggers and National Culture: Scots and the Central Victorian Goldfields 1851-61’, in Cardell, Kerry, and Cummings, Cliff, (eds.), A world turned upside down, pp. 78-94, passim, and Cummings, Cliff, ‘Scottish National Identity in an Australian Colony’, Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 72, (1993), pp. 22-38.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

‘Swivel-eyed loons’ and Europe

Lord Howe, Chancellor and  Foreign Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, said today in an article in the Daily Telegraph Mr Cameron had ‘opened a Pandora's box politically and seems to be losing control of his party in the process’, over his plan to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the European Union.  Whether a leading Conservative actually referred to grassroots Conservative activists as ‘swivel-eyed loons’, it reminiscent of John Major’s apocryphal statement about ‘bastards’ in his cabinet.   David Cameron, who in 2011 said there was no case for a referendum, has shifted his position this year first with the promise of a referendum in 2017 after a renegotiation of Britain’s position and then, this week, issuing a draft referendum bill as well as having 116 members of his party voting against the Queen’s Speech in the ‘regret’ debate.  The problem the Prime Minister faces is that if you make concessions to the disparate group of euro-sceptics, they will just come back, like Oliver, and ask for more. 
There is, and arguably has been since the 1990s , a three-way split in Conservative ranks over Europe.  There are those who want to remain within the EU but who now support the Prime Minister’s stance on renegotiation.  There are euro-sceptics who want to leave Europe but are also supportive of the Prime Minister’s position hoping that a referendum in 2017 will go in their favour.  Finally, there are those Conservatives who want to leave Europe and want to leave it now after winning an immediate referendum that recent polls suggest they might do.  This division is also evident among the Tory old guard such as Lords Howe, Lawson and Tebbit who were already active in politics in the 1970s when the last referendum took place.    This raises what I think is an important issue, that of the referendum being a generational issue.  The youngest of us who campaigned in the referendum campaign in 1975 (ironically given the present situation it was supported by the majority of the Conservative Party with the Labour Party riven by division on the issue) and who voted are in our mid-50s.  The result was unequivocal with two-thirds of those who voted in favour, some 17.38 million people (67.2 per cent)  with only 8.47 million voting against (32.8 per cent) .  Support for EEC membership was positively correlated with support for the Conservative Party and with average income. In contrast, poorer areas that supported Labour gave less support to the question.  Campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote, I remember the enthusiasm of the many young activists from all three major political parties extolling the virtues of a ‘Common Market’ while opponents such as Tony Benn were claiming that ‘half a million jobs would be lost in Britain as a direct result of our entry into the Common Market’.  I am reminded of Nick Clegg’s outrageous statement that three million jobs depend on the EU though he provided no justification for his claims…political assertion to engender fear much as Benn did in 1975.   What was not recognised in 1975 was that the Common Market represented one element of a much broader European project for great political union as well as creating a massive free trading market.  And therein lies the problem.  In 1975 people did not vote for political union, a federal state of Europe.  It never came up on the doorstep. 
If there is a referendum in 2017, it could be those who voted in 1975 who determine its outcome.  Not only are those over sixty more likely to vote but there is evidence to suggest that they could vote against continued membership.  In part this reflects the conservatism that comes to many with age but it also reflects what many see as a distortion of the mandate that they gave in 1975.  Talking to my contemporaries who campaigned for entry in 1975, I’m struck by how many of them would now vote for exit unless David Cameron can return the UK to the Common market position of the 1970s, reduce immigration from the EU as many believe that uncontrolled immigration is not longer acceptable (for them not a racist argument but a pragmatic way of maintaining Britain’s long reputation as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution in their own countries) and give Britain back control over key areas of people’s lives though they disagree about which areas.  Most don’t want to leave the EU as such but want Britain’s relationship with it restored to one of economic not political union.  It is therefore essential that the debate about Europe enthuses those below 50 and especially those between 20 and 40 as they will be the people who have to live with the consequences of a referendum whatever the result and this will prove difficult.  If you’re say 25, you are concerned with your job (if you have one), your wages, your ability to purchase a flat or house and, if you’re a graduate with paying off your student debt, you are not concerned with a possible referendum in four years.  Yet without their support, it is highly probable that a referendum will be lost as the UK will leave the EU.  
There has long been pressure for a referendum that has been denied by politicians but this is an increasingly unsustainable political option for them.  Politicians can’t say that they are taking what the public says into account and then ignore their calls for a vote.  There is a generational opportunity to re-commit Britain to at least the economic principles of the EU but this will only occur if younger voters are engaged with the issue.  At present many, I would suggest most, are not and unless they are we are on the road leading to exit.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Regrets…I’ve had a few!

Last night an unholy alliance of Conservative MPs with very different views about the EU were defeated in a free vote by 277 to 131 on a proposed amendment to the Queen’s Speech that ‘expressed regret’ that a bill paving the way for a referendum in 2017 was not being brought forward this year.  It was backed by 116 Tory MPs representing half of the party’s backbenchers.  It is no coincidence that many who supported the amendment have ‘safe’ seats while those in marginals were less enthusiastic.  Attention now turns to the 20 MPs who will be drawn in the ballot for private member’s bills; the hope is that one of the 4 MPs selected who voted for the amendment will adopt the draft referendum bill.  Even if it became law, and private member’s bills occasionally do, you cannot pass legislation binding a future parliament.  So if the Conservatives won in 2015, given the Prime Minister’s commitment to a referendum in 2017, it is unnecessary and if Labour won they currently have no commitment to a referendum anyway so it would be set aside.  Either way, it looks like a fruitless exercise.

Is David Cameron going down the same road that John Major trod in the 1990s?  Despite the rhetoric from supporters of yesterday’s amendment saying that it shows the strength rather than weakness of the Prime Minister, that is not how it looks outside the Westminster village.  Whatever your view about the EU and the need for a referendum, the Conservatives do appear to be banging on about it when they should be focussing on the economic recovery…and it that respect the Labour Party are right, a view I’m certain the Prime Minister would agree with.  The vote yesterday does give the impression of a party divided over Europe…so nothing new there for those of us who remember the debates after Maastricht…but what many Conservatives appear to have forgotten is that they lost disastrously in 1997 and the impression of division played a significant role in that defeat.  When governing in a coalition, political parties are not able to do everything they would like and, given Lib-Dem opposition to a referendum in this parliament, David Cameron’s commitment to renegotiation and a referendum if (and it’s a big ‘if’) he wins the next election is probably about as far as he can go. 

There is no doubt that having a referendum on Europe would be popular with the public and there is a question of ‘trust’ in politicians over the issue.  In the last twenty years, the three main political parties have all given a commitment to hold one and then reneged on the deal most noticeably on the Lisbon treaty.  The critical question is whether public attitudes on this issue will be sufficient to determine the outcome of the 2015 election.  The key issues for voters in past elections have been the economy, the NHS and law and order with membership of the EU not a key determinant of voting intentions.  None of the elections since 1975 have been what may be called ‘euro elections’ so will 2015 be any different?  Well possibly.  The strong showing of UKIP in the local government elections and the euro elections in 2014 in which it is likely they will also do well has pushed the referendum up the political agenda.  The Conservatives will include it in their election manifesto and this may persuade many UKIP voters to vote Conservative since UKIP will not win the election while the Conservatives might.  This is a problem for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats as a failure to include a commitment to hold a referendum could well lose them votes.  Both could argue that there is already legislation that triggers a referendum if there is a ‘significant’ transfer of powers to Brussels (who decides when this has taken place?) and that such a commitment is therefore unnecessary but this is unlikely to assuage those for whom a referendum has become a matter of faith. 

With a more promising report on the state of the British economy yesterday from the Bank of England and the continued recession in the euro-zone, it appears that the question of the referendum is not going away.  At no time since the 1970s is it more likely to take place. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Gold in Victoria: immigrants arrive

Word that gold had been found in NSW and Victoria spread quickly as it had done in California. [1] The result was a massive movement of people from Britain, Europe, China and America but also within Australia and Victoria’s ports bustled with new arrivals. In just four months in 1852, 619 ships arrived in Hobson’s Bay carrying 55,057 passengers; 1853 saw the arrival of 2,594 ships. In March 1851, Victoria’s population was 80,000, not including its indigenous population; by 1854, it had tripled to 237,000 and doubled again to 540,000 by 1861. [2] The population of the Victorian gold fields was 20,000 in 1851; 34,000 the following year; 100,000 in 1855 reaching its peak of 150,000 in 1858. The majority of migrants came from the United Kingdom; [3] between 1852 and 1860, 290,000 people came to Victoria from the British Isles. [4] Of the other migrants, less than 15,000 came from other European countries and 6,000 migrated from America. The NSW gold fields were poorer but the state’s population increased from 200,000 in 1851 to 357,000 ten years later. By 1861, 29% of the population was Australian born, 60% were from the United Kingdom and 11% were from other parts of the world. [5]

Reaching the goldfields

A comparatively small number of Americans made their way to the Victorian diggings in the 1850s. Nevertheless, this group of migrants had a major impact on the goldfields, like the Cornish diggers, because of their mining heritage. Many Americans quickly recognised the potential of fast-growing markets in Victoria in expanding trade between Australia and the United States. In early 1853, an editorial in the New York Herald maintained that Australia’s ‘social, commercial and political’ importance would ‘advance with rapid strides,’ as would trade between the two continents.

Arriving at Melbourne c1856

The American visitor George Francis Train [6] recorded his impressions of the country in his letters from Victoria that appeared in the Boston Post between 1853 and 1855[7] and in his An American Merchant in Europe, Asia and Australia, published in 1857.[8] Only 26 when he finally left Australia in November 1855, Train soon became an important part of the Melbourne business scene and actively involved in its Chamber of Commerce. The Argus commented that Train’s

....energy, spirit, and restless activity have had an effect, not fully appreciated we believe, in stirring up a spirit of emulation amongst his brother merchants...it would be difficult to trace the full effect of his example in vitalising our whole commercial system. [9]

In Train’s impressions of Melbourne, his American cultural background is always evident: Melbourne was seen through American eyes as he stated in a letter home, on 23 June 1853,

Collins street is the Broadway and Flinders lane is Wall street’ and that ‘Melbourne, though situated so far out of the way, cannot fail to be a great city...We must introduce a sprinkling of Yankeeism here and teach the residents the meaning of despatch!

His letters provided detailed, if not always reflective, analysis of Victorian politics that reflected the views of the local business community. On 1 January 1855, he declared that:

Politics have grown twenty years in a single month...the miners of Ballaarat raise an independent flag and the country thrills with the purport of expected change. The love of liberty that is convulsing the shaking thrones of the old world has touched the giant chieftain of the Australias, and the ‘southern cross’, three-fourths of the people say, must be the flag of the southern El Dorado.


[1] Moch, L.P., Moving Europeans: migration in Western Europe since 1650, (Indiana University Press), 1992 is a useful general work on migration.

[2] Potts, E. Daniel, and Potts, A., Young America and Australian Gold: Americans and the Gold Rush of the 1850s, (University of Queensland Press), 1974; Knott, J. W., ‘Arrival and Settlement 1851-1880’, in Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins, 2nd ed., (Cambridge University Press), 2001, pp. 367-370; Broome, R., The Victorians: arriving, (Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates), 1984, and Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, (Allen & Unwin), 1994, focus on Australia.

[3] Ibid, Jupp, James, The English in Australia, pp. 52-86, especially pp. 71-74.

[4] Clarke, F. G., The Land of Contrarieties: British Attitudes to the Australian Colonies 1828-1855, (Melbourne University Press), 1977, pp. 142-154, provides a useful summary of changing attitudes in Britain to the discovery of gold.

[5] Beever, A., ‘From a Place of “Horrible Destitution” to a Paradise of the Working class: The Transformation of British Working class Attitudes to Australia 1841-1851’, Labour History, Vol. 40, (1981), pp. 1-15, examines how and why Australia became the place where British workers wanted to emigrate.

[6] Potts, E. Daniel, ‘George Francis Train (1829-1904)’, ADB, Vol. 6, 1976, pp. 299-300, and Thornton, W., The Nine Lives of Citizen Train, (Greenberg), 1948.

[7] Potts, E. Daniel and Annette, (eds.), A Yankee merchant in Goldrush Australia: the letters of George Francis Train 1853-55, (Heinemann), 1970. In his review of Train’s letters, The Business History Review, Vol. 46, (1972), pp. 272-274, Sydney Butlin exposed their limitations: ‘his comments were the commonplaces of contemporary newspapers, to be found in almost every traveller’s book of the period’.

[8] Train, G.F., An American Merchant in Europe, Asia and Australia, (G.P. Putman), 1857, especially pp. 369-401.

[9] Argus, 6 November 1855.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Bias, history and the National Curriculum

In a speech today Michael Gove has accused some teachers of promoting an ‘infantilised’ view of history.  The basis for his argument was the suggestion in an outline lesson plan that students could create Mr Men characters based on Hitler and in materials produced by the Historical Association on King John.  One of the things that you’re taught as a historian is not to take sources out of context something, it appears that the Secretary of State is guilty of….grade ‘E’, I’m afraid minister, for recognising the value of the sources to your argument but the grade reflects your failure to provide any context at all resulting in a series of unsupported and biased statements.  This reflects the increasing fractious nature of the debate on the proposed changes to the History National Curriculum. 

Let me be clear, I love history, I always have and was fortunate to be taught it well throughout my school and university career.  I loved teaching history in a succession of secondary schools and, if feedback from my students is to be believed, I was able to inculcate an understanding of and interest in the subject.  I also strongly believe that Michael Gove has a similar attitude to the subject.  I was taught the subject chronologically and though there were gaps (as there inevitably will be in any history curriculum) I found this to be an effective way in developing not only my understanding of the subject and the connections between different events but also in considering the problems with using sources and the different interpretations of historians.  The problem is with how he is going about it.  Having the support of eminent historians such as David Starkey and Niall Ferguson, is not enough for they, like me, look at their own historical education and think that’s how children should be taught today. 

I was trained as a medievalist and applaud the increased emphasis on medieval history but for many teachers, especially non-specialists, this is a foreign land.  The narrowing of university history courses so that students can get their degrees having never studied anything but modern history means that most teachers are ill-prepared for this move.  Without the necessary knowledge of the subject, it will be difficult for them to teach it convincingly and at any other than at a superficial level.  Producing lesson plans..the preferred weapon of the Department for Education…will not be enough; without the necessary knowledge of medieval history, teachers will teach ineffectively and learning will consequently not occur.  The argument from teaching associations is that there should be a delay in introducing the new curriculum but that won’t solve the problem of limited knowledge…teachers who don’t know about Athelstan in 2014, won’t miraculously know about him in 2015.  Politicians think about ends but tend not to take into account the means necessary to achieve those ends. 

Reacting to UKIP?

If David Cameron believed that his albeit weak offer of a referendum on a renegotiated relationship with the EU would quieten the euro-sceptic voices in his own party, then events over the past week will have come as a bit of a surprise.  The dramatic showing of UKIP in the local government elections a week ago led to an abject apology that politicians should not ridicule political parties that gained significant numbers of votes (especially if they happen to be in Conservative areas) and the clown analogy has been used to some effect by the Labour leader responding to yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.  Fear that Nadine Dorries, unceremoniously denied the Conservative whip for six months for being a contestant on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, might defect to UKIP led to her brought back into the fold on Wednesday: yes I know this was planned anyway and it’s just a coincidence that it occurred after the disastrous showing of the Conservatives in the elections…does anyone actually believe this?  More seriously, Nigel Lawson on Tuesday and Michael Portillo today have called for a British exit from the EU.  Whether this makes a referendum more or less likely is debatable.  The government is committed to renegotiation and a referendum if they win the election in 2015 and few are giving odds on them doing so.  The Labour Party is unlikely to honour a Conservative commitment after 2015 if it wins: Labour contains fewer euro-sceptic MPs and its record on offering referendums on Europe and then not honouring them is well know: remember the Lisbon Treaty was for Gordon Brown not significant enough of a constitutional change to warrant a referendum. 

Lord Lawson

The heart of the problem is that in 1973, and this was legitimated in the 1975 referendum, was that the UK thought it had joined an economic union while, in reality, it was joining an evolving political process.  Whatever the arguments for greater political and fiscal union in Europe in addition to the already existing monetary union, this is not what most people believed they voted for in 1975.  The UK has largely been left behind by these developments and we are already, because we are not a member of the euro, excluded from key decisions and with the increase in majority voting find ourselves having to implement decisions over which we have little or no influence.  In addition to this, the EU is already devising laws and regulations that are to the detriment of key British industries, notably the financial and banking sector.  This is a process that reflects the growing concentration of economic power in an increasingly centralised euro-zone and will intensify as political and fiscal union becomes a reality.  David Cameron says that having a strong euro-zone and fiscal union is in Britain’s interests but, as Gisela Stuart commented in her article ‘The EU has pushed Britain ‘out’ already’, in yesterday’s Times, this conflicts with ‘the historical objectives of British foreign policy’.  Since the late-seventeenth century, Britain has fought to prevent the continent being dominated by a single power: France under Louis XIV and Napoleon, Germany under the Kaiser and Hitler, and the ‘Cold War’ against the Soviet Union.  Yet, the growing concentration of power in the EU leads irrevocably to the emergence of a European super-state in which Germany is the dominant player if only because it is economically the strongest.

Gisela Stuart also argues that the EU is undemocratic but ‘worse, there is no great demand from within any other major European power for this democratic deficit to be addressed.’  The notion of the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU has long been recognised but little has been done to remedy it.  There is little demand for the accountability of institutions and individuals that is a central feature of the British political system and the European project is proceeding with no serious discussion about what democracy means within the EU or how democratic principles might be advanced.  Britain has a different constitutional and democratic tradition to much of Europe where executive authority has been given precedence over any democratic representation and where democracy was largely the product of twentieth century developments.  So the idea of an unelected technocrat as Prime Minister in Italy or Greece is less problematic than it would be in Britain where having the support of the people is considered sacrosanct.  The tendency towards executive despotism, even though elected, has been evident in Britain since the 1920s and has gathered pace since the 1980s with Prime Ministers taking on a more presidential stance.  This makes appeals to the people through referendums something to be avoided at all costs and explains why promises of referendums have never be actually carried into practice despite clear evidence that this is what the people want.

 Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at the Global Investment Conference in London May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Given that the EU has already changed fundamentally and that the European project will continue whether Britain likes it or not (and hoping that it might fail is not a viable political strategy), there are several key questions that politicians and the public need to consider:

  • Is it likely that the proposed renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU will deliver real change?  Well, no despite what the Prime Minister still appears to believe. in a speech to an investment conference this morning: some pessimists ‘say there is no prospect of reforming the European Union, you simply have to leave. I think they are wrong…I think it is possible to change and reform this organisation.’   Why should the other members of the EU allow Britain to negotiate a different relationship (and it already has outside the euro)?  For them , it is an unwarranted irritation and Britain should decide whether it wishes to embrace the European project or not and get on with it. 
  • Can mainstream politicians afford to give the people an in-out referendum that, if polls are to be believed, they could well lose?  Past experience of political promises suggests not and past political practice dictates that you never give people a referendum you know you won’t win. 
  • Should Britain, outside trade and cultural co-operation, remain in the EU?  Arguably this is what Britain signed up to in 1975.  Enter scare tactics.  Yesterday  in an interview Nick Clegg said that 3 million jobs depend on the EU.  He may well be right but this does not mean that those jobs will disappear if we left the EU.  The reality is that no one has reached any unequivocal answers to what would happen if Britain did leave the EU and it is unlikely that anyone will.  Those who favour leaving argue that the economy might even be better while those in favour of staying in say leaving could be an economic disaster.  I remember being told by a leading economists that Britain not entering the euro would lead to economic meltdown but, of course, it didn’t. 
  • Finally, given that our relationship with the EU has become increasingly fractious, what should our relationship with continental Europe be?  If and when we are finally given the choice the issue is whether, as a country, we are prepared to embrace the European project as it is (and not how we would like it to be) or whether we are prepared to face the uncertainties of being outside given Gisela Stuart’s opinion that we have already been pushed ‘out’?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Gold in Victoria

Victoria soon overtook NSW as a gold producer and between 1855 and 1865 annual production exceeded 2 million ounces and gold was being mined at Ballarat, Bendigo, Stawell, Castlemaine and Clunes. In 1856, the nation’s output peaked at some 3 million ounces with 95% coming from Victoria. This brought enormous wealth to the colony and financed the construction of many fine nineteenth century buildings in Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. As in Ballarat, gold mining at Bendigo started by working near-surface alluvial deposits but there were no deep leads so many diggers left for other fields when the alluvial gold was exhausted. There was, however, gold contained in hard quartz veins and Cornish miners from South Australia who had tended to avoid the soft, dangerous deep leads were in their element drilling and blasting quartz. Some hard rock pioneers, such as the ‘father of quartz mining in Bendigo’, the German Theodore Ballerstedt, had learnt their trade in California, others learnt by trial and error.[1]

The Bendigo field consisted of a series of rich ‘saddle reefs’, quartz veins ‘sandwiched’ between country rocks in anticline folds.[2] At each mine, similar reefs were found as the workings extended downwards.[3] Quartz had to be crushed to liberate the fine particles of gold and this required steam powered ‘stamp mills’. The steam engines were also operated pumps to drain the mines. These machines and the sinking of shafts through hard rock required large capital investment so that mining syndicates, share issuing companies and local ‘stock exchanges’ were formed to raise the necessary capital. By 1871, more than a thousand companies were being traded on the Bendigo stock exchange. Many companies failed, largely because they paid out all profits as shareholder dividends instead of retaining cash for mine development, maintenance and mechanisation. The companies that planned their mine development ahead of production prospered. Speculation in gold shares during the 1860s caused significant problems. A common practice was for companies to spend all available shareholder funds and then borrow from banks. As debts mounted, the company operators and other persons in on the deception would pass their shares to ‘dummies’, people of no realisable wealth, leaving honest shareholders to meet all the debts when the company failed. In 1871, Victoria enacted the No Liability Act for mining companies, whereby an investor lost only the value of their own investment.

By the close of the nineteenth century, mining activity had expanded across Australia, from NSW and South Australia to Victoria, into Queensland and the Northern Territory, across to the coast of Western Australia, then inland to Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. Great bodies of ore were yet to be discovered and vast tracts of territory were largely unexplored. During the first half of the twentieth century, new mines continued to be established but the mining companies also expanded their scope and influence and the period saw the emergence of Australia as a world leader in new minerals engineering technologies.


[1] Fahey, Charles, ‘The Ballestedts and the Bendigo quartz reefs’, La Trobe Journal, Vol. 30, (1982), pp. 29-32.

[2] Palmer, A.V., The Gold Mines of Bendigo, (Craftsman Press), 1976.

[3] By 1990, the Bendigo mines were amongst the deepest in the world.

Friday, 3 May 2013

‘Send in the clowns’: Local government elections, 2013

Although the local government election results are, as yet, incomplete, it is clear that the ‘winner’ is UKIP.  It came second in the South Shields by-election with a quarter of the votes cast, pushing the Conservatives into third place and the Liberal Democrats into seventh place with one per cent of the vote.  Professor John Curtice has been number-crunching UKIP's performances and tells the BBC that its share of the vote was 27% in Essex and 25% in Hampshire. In Lincolnshire it was 24%. The party took 22% of votes in Dorset, 20% in Somerset and 16% in Gloucestershire.  Turnout appears to have been lower than in 2009: in Wilshire, for instance, it was 43% in 2009 but a predicted 32% in 2013 and in Cumbria a fall from 39.6% to 32.6%.  In the coalition, unsurprisingly, braced itself for losing seats but it appears that the Liberal Democrats have done worse than the Conservatives.  Labour should be doing better than it appears to be doing at this stage in the election cycle.  The response from the major political parties has been predictable: ‘we hear the message’  was the response from the Conservative Party chairman; people like to give the government a kicking in mid-term elections; traditionally people vote for protest parties when they can’t vote in a general election.  This shows a degree of complacency among the political classes.

Some who voted for UKIP rather than for one of the main parties will return to the fold in 2015 but this neglects the inexorable rise in support for UKIP not simply in the south but across the country and it has now shown that it can succeed beyond European elections.  True, it does not (as yet) have representation in Parliament and the current electoral system means that it will be difficult for them to make this breakthrough.  However, its success will intensify its impact on the political parties in Westminster.  The government has already announced harder policies on immigration and on the regime in prisons and a referendum on the EU has been promised (but that has happened before on several occasions and we’re still waiting).  Those on the right of the Conservative party will feel, with some justification, that their warnings on immigration and attitudes to the EU have been vindicated and this will strengthen their calls for David Cameron to put flesh on his somewhat insubstantial political bones.  I am certain that Labour will trumpet their triumph in the by-election (they were never going to lose South Shields anyway even with a reduced majority) and local government elections but, like much in politics, it’s a case of smoke and mirrors.  The reality is that they should be doing better against a very unpopular austerity government and they are not.  They have failed to convince the traditional working class voters to vote for them and appear to have no real economic alternative to the government’s austerity policies.  As for the Liberal Democrats, they appear to have held up tolerably well in their main centres of local government power but they also appear, somewhat unfairly, to be the butt for voter contempt for coalition policies.

To dismiss UKIP’s performance as a protest vote, as has already happened and I’m certain will continue to be the mantra of the political classes in the next few days, misses the point entirely.  Whatever UKIP’s detailed policy on immigration in this country is, and there has hardly been a consistent message from the party allowing it to be branded as racist, it appeals to the many who feel disfranchised by the existing political establishment and who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are treated with contempt by them.  Yes governments have to make difficult and often unpopular decisions and most people recognise and grudgingly accept that but on two key issues, the linked questions of immigration and the EU, there is (and has been for several decades) a serious and growing mismatch between the public’s and political classes’ attitudes that the major parties appear not to acknowledge.    Yet scepticism about the political, though not the free trade economic project, of the EU cuts across party boundaries and not just in the Conservative party where the fissures are more widely publicised.  In that respect UKIP poses a threat to all the major parties. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Resistance and Rebellion: a review

Resistance and Rebellion in the British Empire 1600-1980, Richard Brown, Clio Publishing, 2013, paperback, 626 pp., £27.95 ISBN 9780955698385

Susan England of Clio, in an unusual, but entirely appropriate, appreciation of the author by the publisher in a foreword to this final volume of Richard Brown’s remarkable trilogy of studies of resistance and rebellion in the British Empire, completed since his retirement from full-time teaching, observes that the recent recognition by the High Court in London in October 2012 of the case of three veteran survivors of the ‘systematic torture, incarceration and killing’ allegedly meted out by the British colonial powers in Kenya during the seven-year Mau-Mau rebellion in the 1950s, provides an ever-present reminder of the continuing resonance of the experience of empire in our world today. This third volume of Brown’s epic trilogy breaks the chronological mould of volumes 1 and 2, which focused predominantly on developments in Britain, Canada and Australia in the six decades extending from the 1830s to the 1880s. By contrast to its predecessors, it ‘explores a diverse range of anti-colonial rebellions within the British Empire from a broader chronological and geographical perspective’ utilising case studies from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries drawn from a gazetteer encompassing America, Australia, Cyprus, Kenya, Mauritius, New Zealand, Sierra Leone and South Africa, including some names more familiar to philatelists than to many students of history, all of which challenged at some point British imperial rule. The rebellions are crisply categorised as convict, migrant, fiscal, millenarian, nationalist and even a rum rebellion.

Colonial Rebellion Kindle cover

This latter, ‘very British rebellion’, occurring unusually within the colonial elite, and so-called because rum had become the substitute for currency in the barter-based economy of New South Wales, is particularly memorable since it challenged the authority of Captain William Bligh, the survivor of the mutiny of the Bounty in 1789 led by Fletcher Christian, the ship’s first mate. Bligh who in this later episode, lucidly and meticulously reconstructed by Brown, mainly from the contemporary evidence of Bligh’s correspondence and worthy perhaps of a cinematic sequel, was imprisoned from 1808 to 1810 by mutinous soldiers, but later exonerated of all blame and promoted admiral on his retirement in 1811. Brown’s characteristically trenchant analysis of Bligh’s conduct, however, reveals that even before his arrival as governor of the New South Wales penal colony, his style of governance had led to problems with his subordinates on the voyage, and that soon after his arrival he replaced many of the officials with military experience with his own appointments which ‘did not play well in a small community and did not endear him to the corps’. Indeed, he then proceeded to antagonise not only influential figures in the colony but also some of the less wealthy government leasehold tenants within Sydney, challenging their property rights and also gaining a reputation for ‘his abusing and confining’ the soldiers of the New South Wales Corps ‘without the smallest provocation’. This prompted John Harris, the corps’ surgeon who had been dismissed from his positions of naval officer and magistrate to compare his exercise of authority to that of Robespierre or the Terror or even the Roman emperor, Caligula, who ‘never reigned with more despotic sway than he does’. Meanwhile, in Sydney a verse was circulating, invoking the Bounty mutiny, appealing: ‘Is there no Christian in New South Wales to put a stop to the Tyranny of the Governor’.

Brown’s vivid analytical narrative, here as elsewhere, illuminates a relatively obscure episode of imperial history within a broader, carefully researched, wide-ranging study of anti-colonial resistance and rebellion. The publisher Clio and author Richard Brown are to be congratulated on producing such a wide-ranging concluding volume to a stimulating series in such an attractive format, which has the potential to engage with a wider student and general readership than might previously have been attracted to the study of British imperial history.

John A. Hargreaves