Thursday, 24 December 2015

Arresting the arsonists

The burning of the Eureka Hotel marked a precipitous deterioration in the relationship between the Ballarat diggers and the authorities and the unplanned riot showed diggers just how effective their numerical superiority could be. Rede ordered the arrest of the men who led the mob, a difficult task because there was no clear idea how the riot had started or who instigated it. A few people were arrested and all but three were able to provide alibis. An American, Albert Hurd, had also been arrested but he was released despite depositions against him that suggested he played an active role in the destruction of the hotel. Hotham commented on the list of those arrested on suspicion of having been involved in the riot: ‘Read. I Regret to find so few Ringleaders arrested.’ [1] As a result, it was only Andrew McIntyre, Thomas Fletcher and Henry Westerby who were charged, despite contradictory evidence, with causing the riot. [2] This incensed Ballarat’s diggers who felt that the prisoners were being made scapegoats to satisfy the authorities’ desire for retribution.

At the committal of McIntyre and Fletcher on Saturday 21 October, Assistant-Commissioner Johnston said that bail would not be granted and the accused were committed for trial in Geelong on 26 October. Westerby was not committed for trial in Melbourne until a week later. However, the diggers argued that if Bentley could be bailed on a charge of murder, then they could be on a lesser charge.[3] The crowd moved to Bakery Hill for an unplanned meeting where some wanted to destroy the Camp, a situation prevented by the intervention of Henry Holyoake, formerly a London Chartist. Violence was avoided when bail of £500 was negotiated with Camp officials and the crowd then dispersed to the sound of pistol shots that accidentally wounded one man in his side. However, when the delegates went to the Camp again, they found that bail had been increased to £2,000; the Argus commented:

Now, supposing that there were good grounds for the arrangements as they at present exist, why was the promise made at all? The authorities are reduced to the necessity of acknowledging either that, as usual, they are premature in their decisions, or that they have adopted the principle that no faith is to be kept: with the heretics who disbelieve the doctrine of Government irresponsibility, unlimited official power and administrative spotlessness.

Hotham thought that the incident was the result of a few irresponsible troublemakers who temporarily swayed the sensible and law-abiding majority. He recognised that this dangerous minority must be isolated and dealt with firmly and informed Rede to take a strong stance against diggers for riotous behaviour and if they assembled for violent and illegal purposes. Hotham backed this up by reinforcing the strength of the Camp. Additional police arrived on 19 October and were followed shortly afterwards by a further 450 troops of the 40th Regiment and on 25 October a detachment of the 12th Regiment newly arrived from England. [4]

On Sunday 22 October, many of Ballarat’s Catholics met after Mass to protest at the treatment of Father Smyth’s servant and the arrack on the Church. [5] Peter Lalor and Thomas Kennedy stirred up the diggers and it decided that, the following day, Timothy Hayes, their representative would lead a delegation to Commissioner Rede. The delegation found that Constable Lord had already been moved from Ballarat to Melbourne although it wanted the same treatment for Johnston. Led by Hayes and John Manning, many Catholics met on Wednesday 25 October to learn the outcome of the deputation to Rede, and resolved to petition Hotham for a retrial of Gregorius and the removal of Johnston. In Melbourne, however, the whole affair was dismissed by the Chief Commissioner and the Colonial Secretary. Hotham was impressed by the Catholic petition and, although he did not think that Johnston was to blame for the situation, he nonetheless thought that it might be ‘politic’ to move him from Ballarat. This might have calmed the situation but Johnston was not moved and Catholics remained alienated by the actions of the Camp. [6]

[1] PROV, 1189/P Unit 153: J54/12469, dated 6 November 1854. It listed ten men arrested: Manastra Flatow, Samuel Butler, John Balderstone, George McIntosh, Charles Stewart and John Nanderbyle had charges dismissed on 26 and 27 October; Albert Hurd was also committed for trial at Melbourne on 15 November.
[2] Lazarus was present when Fletcher was arrested and at his subsequent trial: SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 25 October 1845, pp. 97-104, 22 November 1854, p. 114.
[3] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 25 October 1854, p. 4.
[4] Ballarat Times, 28 October 1854, commented acidly on this: ‘This verdant impastation, parcelled up in red padding, is to vegetate on the hill to the west of the township, commanding a view of the flat, which last summer was used as a cricket ground’. See also, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 21 October 1854, p. 4.
[5] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 25 October 1854, p. 4.
[6] PROV 1189/P Unit 92, J54/12201.

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