Wednesday, 30 September 2015

‘Speeching', preaching and protection

Over the years I have listened to or read countless speeches--some good, many poor and others downright tedious.  I remember being told many years ago that the essence of a ‘good’ speech is that it should have a beginning—where you outline what you’re going to say—a middle—where you say it—and an ending—where you sum up what you say.  I was also told that a good speech should have a clear theme—or ‘narrative’ in today’s parlance—and should make no more than three points.  Another rule of speech-making that I am reminded of is that if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it…there’s no point in making a pointless speech.  And finally, length of time speaking is no guarantee of a good speech…Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was delivered in a few minutes and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of public oratory while the two hour oration by Edward Everett that preceded it is now largely forgotten. 
Yesterday's speech by Jeremy Corbyn was, if these suggestions are valid, was far from being a good speech.  It went on too long…55 minutes.  It had no clear theme apart from persistent calls for a ‘kinder’ new form of politics, whatever that means: ‘a different Britain, a better Britain, a more equal, more decent Britain’.  It lacked real substance…perhaps not surprising as he has only been leader for a few weeks.  As a result it was more a ramble through aspirations, past personal commitments and principles that spoke to his already committed audience in the conference hall but had precious little to say to convince those outside the hall who he needs to convince that Labour really does have an alternative political strategy.  Unsurprisingly, it went down well with his supporters and has been roundly criticised by commentators and the press.  For me, it was a bit like a really nice uncle sitting me down and giving me a talk about what politics should be about. But perhaps that’s the whole point of the Corbyn discussion.
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You may find many of the things Jeremy is saying appealing.  As an email I received from him this morning said: ‘are [you] fed up with the inequality, the injustice, the unnecessary poverty – and if you are too, I say this: join us. Join us and help strengthen this movement. Join us, and help us beat the Tories in 2020.’  It’s difficult to disagree with this unless you think that inequality, injustice and poverty are a necessary part of our modern society.  It’s a bit like saying ‘let those of you without sin throw the first stone’ and there’s no doubting the sincerity or, as the media would have it, ‘authenticity’ of his message.  By allowing a free vote on further intervention in Syria, something that appears now to be ‘policy’, he is acting on his long-held principle of reasoned opposition or, if you’re a cynic, recognising that Labour MPs would defy a party whip on the issue.  But, I think that today he has made a major tactical blunder.  Although it will appeal to his supporters and is perfectly in line with his own opinion that Trident should not be replaced, ruling out that he would not use Britain’s nuclear weapons if he was Prime Minister lays him open to the charge that a Corbyn government would be a threat to Britain’s national security.  This is something on which he now has no room for equivocation and will lay him open from now until 2020 to the charge that he is prepared to leave the country’s defences seriously weakened.  Speaking for himself is one thing but speaking for the nation is something different and Jeremy has yet to make that transition.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Tension in 1853

There had been some opposition in the Ballarat goldfield to the introduction of the license fees in September 1851 but this had passed without incident. In 1853, Dr Alfred Yates Carr, who had only recently arrived in the colony and Henry Silvester managed to form the Ballarat Gold Diggers’ Association. [1] The radicalism of the ‘Red Ribbon’ movement in Bendigo in 1853 does not appear to have found favourable roots in Ballarat. In early September, ‘Captain’ Edward Brown of the Bendigo anti-license committee visited Ballarat but his speeches were inflammatory in tone and made little impact on local diggers.[2] Even so two subsequent meetings of the Gold Diggers Association were sufficiently fractious that Carr and Brown were reported to have planned a duel.

The constitutionalist approach of the Ballarat Association in the second half of 1853 may have been less confrontational than the more radical campaign in Bendigo but this did not mean that Ballarat diggers were any less angered by the license fee and the coercive attitudes of the authorities. Following the resolution at the meeting on 29 August, on 6 September, Silvester sent the Legislative Council a petition signed by Ballarat diggers who were ‘alarmed’ by maladministration in the goldfields, looked with ‘abhorrence’ at the Commissioners’ conduct in chaining men to logs for not paying their license fees and commented that the monthly fee was unjust, unconstitutional and unaffordable. The Argus questioned how far the deputations from Bendigo and Ballarat represented majority opinion among the diggers while apportioning blame for the current situation firmly with the government:

A strong opinion is gaining ground that the cry of the day--the reduction of the license—is merely used as a blind by certain designing men, to lead the more ignorant and weakminded of the digging population, and the riff-raff of the gold-fields into acts of open hostility; by which they may either gain a short-lived distinction and power or a goodly share of plunder. [3]

Silvester also requested that a deputation should be heard at the bar of the House in support of the petition. In mid-September, he and Carr gave evidence to the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Goldfields dwelling on the injustices that stemmed from the license fee with Carr pointing to increasing opposition to the fee and the semi-military manner in which it was enforced. Silvester maintained there were some in Ballarat who anticipated the establishment of a republic in Victoria and Carr later concluded that dissatisfaction in 1853 was greater than in the weeks leading up to Eureka a year later. On 26 October, Silvester wrote to John Foster, the Colonial Secretary seeking the introduction of a bill to enfranchise diggers. Almost a month later on 21 November, he expressed his concern to Foster at the failure of the government to carry out its promises to the Diggers’ Association concerning the police in Ballarat. Eight days later, a petition from the Association was forwarded to Foster that opposed proposed legislation for managing the goldfields but added that the Ballarat miners had no sympathy with the ‘lawless and unjustifiable proceedings…at Bendigo’. Although the Ballarat diggers were unsympathetic to the nature of the protests in Bendigo, meetings on 19, 21 and 26 November and 17 December all expressed widespread support for immediately enfranchising the mining population. [4]

Radical activity died down in the early months of 1854 as population moved to other goldfields and in June 1854, Robert Rede the new Resident Gold Commissioner commented that the diggers had become more orderly and when police were sent into the Eureka only two unlicensed miners were arrested. [5] Government administration at Ballarat, as elsewhere, had been a source of growing complaint since 1851 but since 1853, resistance had steadily increased. The most visible form of official corruption related to the sale of alcohol and sly grogging was endemic on the goldfield. Police were bribed for the right to erect hotels or obtain liquor licenses. Charles Evans commented on one incident of oppressive goldfield management:

…A number of men who had marked out claims on a cart track were compelled by the Commissioner under a penalty of two pounds to mark out a new road today – It is certainly necessary to preserve a sufficient number of roads on the diggings, but in this case the measures taken were somewhat arbitrary for what the Commissioner was pleased to designate a road was nothing more than a few wheel marks on the sod. [6]

Relations between diggers and administrators on other goldfields had rarely been cordial but they reached their nadir at Ballarat in late 1854.


[1] See, Argus, 4, 25, 29 November 1853. Corfield, Justin, Wickham, Dorothy, and Gervasoni, Clare, The Eureka Encyclopaedia, (Ballarat Heritage Services), 2004, pp. 103-104, 472, contain brief biographical material.

[2] Argus, 2 September 1853, p. 4. Brown’s approach reflected his later trial on charges of intimidation and extortion: Argus, 8 September 1853.

[3] ‘Geelong’, Argus, 6 September 1853, p. 4.

[4] See, Argus, 22, 25, 29 November, 20 December 1853.

[5] Bate, Weston, ‘Robert William Rede (1815-1904)’, ADB, Vol. 6, p. 12.

[6] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 30 May 1854, p. 89.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Simmering tensions, 1851-1852

A tent city sprang into existence and the early diggers peacefully devised ways of organising the goldfields. [1] Nonetheless, the Victorian Government acted quickly sending Commissioners within weeks to collect the gold license fee. [2] The first Resident Gold Commissioner, Francis Doverton, was a former military officer and such was his zeal that he began collecting the fee before it was due to come into effect. This led to significant resentment and violence was only averted because of the moderation of the diggers. [3] By 24 September 1851, 160 licenses had been taken out and before fresh supplies arrived on 6 October, 1,300 handwritten licenses were issued. [4] License inspections and police duties at Ballarat were the responsibility of mounted police and a detachment of the Native Police Corps led by Captain Henry Dana were despatched to the diggings.[5] The commissioners and troopers camped on a little hill behind the Golden Point.

La Trobe visited the field in October and was impressed by the ability of the diggers to pay the license fee.[6] On his return to Melbourne, he considered Doverton’s inability to extract the fee from every digger and moved him to Mount Alexander appointing William Mair, a police magistrate and inspector of police as his successor. [7] The first gold rush at Ballarat proved a false start. The layer of gold-bearing gravel near the surface was quickly exhausted and the opening of the Mount Alexander diggings in October 1851 saw an exodus of diggers to the new field. [8] By December 1851, only a few hundred of the 5,000 diggers who had been in Ballarat in October remained but La Trobe decided to make the settlement permanent and sent W. A. Urquhart to survey and lay out the first goldfield town. Though this was widely ridiculed at the time and by the beginning of 1852, the site was almost deserted, it proved a prescient decision.

Some teams, convinced there might be a deeper gold-bearing layer, sank shafts beneath the shallow gravel beds. Others followed the shallow layer as it gradually became deeper. A number of rich gold bearing leads were located and in May 1852, it was reported that new diggings named the Eureka Leads had been located north of Golden Point but because they were up to fifty metres deep miners had to work in teams to exploit their riches. [9] Deep leads mining was more dangerous, more labour intensive and required more capital than other forms of gold mining. Parties of up to twelve men, often of the same nationality worked round the clock, four on each shift, on claims about four metres square. Shafts in dry ground were circular but those through water-bearing strata were rectangular and lagged with timber from the hills around Ballarat that were soon denuded of trees. In 1853, £55,200 of gold was taken from a single claim and, in total; the Deep Leads at Ballarat yielded 8.4 million ounces of gold.

In July 1852, the Commissioners’ Camp at Golden Point was moved to higher ground on the plateau and was ideally situated looking down on the junction of the two main leads on the plain. The dilapidated guard-house and stables were carted across and were the only ‘permanent’ buildings and the lack of facilities led to prisoners being shackled to a tree until a gaol, referred to as the ‘logs’ was erected. The Resident Commissioner controlled Senior and Assistant-Commissioners who were in charge of portions of each goldfield. The Ballarat Goldfield was divided between four Commissioners, but the boundaries of their jurisdiction were ill-defined. [10] To assist in controlling the diggers, detachments of soldiers and the Gold Mounted Police until replaced by the Victoria Police Force in 1853 were provided. The local goldfields police were seriously understaffed, although they had an authorised strength of 76 constables, just before Eureka, the force had only 53 men. [11]

By the beginning of 1853 with the gradual opening of the deep leads, Ballarat was again prosperous. Gold fields such as Ballarat enjoyed a natural protection from overseas and inter-colonial competition. Proximity to markets and protection from imported grain by distance and freight costs was the key to its success. Goods were supplied locally and the manufacturing of candles, soap, boots, harness, agricultural implements and many other items were similarly boosted. Banks and lending societies sprung up and in 1857, Main Street Ballarat was lined with a substantial number of stores, hotels and workshops. Its first hotel, the Bath’s Hotel was opened in May 1853. By 1854, the adult literacy rate in Ballarat was higher than in England and Wales and a lending library was established at Golden Point as many diggers were avid readers. The first newspaper, the Ballarat Times and Southern Cross came out on 4 March 1854. The building of public houses coincided with the opening of other social amenities. Three theatres were opened in 1853 and 1854, a Racing Club was formed in 1853 and cricket was also played that summer. Ministers of the various Christian denominations quickly arrived on the field with Methodist and Roman Catholic clergy to the fore. [12] Among the thousands who arrived at this time were Peter Lalor, born in Queen’s County, Ireland in 1827 who was a civil engineer by profession and John Basson Humffray, born in Wales in 1824, a solicitor who brought his experience of the Chartist movement in North Wales to the goldfield.


[1] ‘The Ballarat Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 19 September 1851, p. 2, stated that 73 tents and huts had been built in Ballarat with 300 more scattered across the area.

[2] Geelong Advertiser, 20 September 1851, p. 2, ‘Commissioner Armstrong left Melbourne a few days ago for the Ballarat gold field…’

[3] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, p. 35.

[4] Ballarat Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 26 September 1851, p. 2, indicated that licenses had been paid.

[5] ‘Ballarat Diggings, Geelong Advertiser, 26 September 1851, p. 2.

[6] Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1851, p. 2, Geelong Advertiser, 10 October 1851, p. 2, reported that La Trobe was ‘warmly cheered’ and was ‘well received’ in Ballarat.

[7] Sheehy, Thomas, ‘William Mair, (1806-1904)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 199-200.

[8] Ibid, Flett, J., The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria, pp. 345-370, considers the development of gold at Ballarat in the 1850s.

[9] ‘Eureka Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 23 July 1852, p. 2. ‘Geelong Gold Circular’, Argus, 27 September 1852, p. 4, commented that ‘the Eureka is equal in richness to the best field ever opened…’

[10] Roberts, Shirley, Charles Hotham: A Biography, (Melbourne University Press), 1985, pp. 119-124, and MacFarlane, Ian, Eureka from the Official Records, (Melbourne Public Record Office), 1995, pp. 14-23, are useful summaries of goldfield administration.

[11] On the role of the police at Ballarat, ibid, Haldane, R., The People’s Force, pp. 43-48.

[12] Wickham, Dorothy, ‘“Great are the Inconveniences’: The Irish and the Founding of the Catholic Church on the Ballarat Goldfields’, in Cardell, Kerry, and Cummings, Cliff, (eds.), A world turned upside down, pp. 9-25.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A thousand words: a continuing crisis

If a picture is worth a thousand words then the enduring image of the week has to be that of the body of the three year old Alan Kurdi—his mother Rehan and Galip his brother also drowned—being carried from the beach gently by a local policeman.  As is often the case, the death of thousands is a statistic while the death of an individual a tragedy and it often takes something like this to prick the conscience of the nation.  I am reminded of the picture of the girl, her clothes burned off by napalm, in Vietnam in the late 60s and its impact on public opinion in the United States. 

There were also three further issues of importance raised this week that have historical resonance.  We forget that, before the Nazi era, after the United States Germany was one of the most welcoming countries for immigrants.  For instance, it took in French Protestants and Jews and others from eastern Europe in large numbers.  Then we have the unwise and inflammatory words of the Hungarian prime minister about many of the migrants huddled round Budapest station being Muslims…immediate condemnation from the western countries of the EU.  They forget that Hungary was a buffer state between Christian and Muslim Europe from the mid-fifteenth century for over three hundred years and that its king and much of its aristocracy were killed in battle at Mohacs in 1526 in defence of the Church.  While the prime minister’s words may have been repugnant and morally unjustifiable to most people beyond Hungary’s borders, they reflected a sense of its past that is deeply engrained in the Hungarian psyche.  Finally, frequent comparisons have been made between the situation today with that at the end of the Second World War when two million people were displaced, something resolved in part by the Marshall Plan and massive investment from the United States.  What has been remarkable over the last few weeks has been the almost complete silence of the United States’ government on the migration crisis…no comments, no offers of help…absolutely nothing.

Migrants arrive at the Austrian-Hungarian border, 5 September 2015

Politically this week has seen a deepening of the crisis within the EU.  ‘Free movement’ is one of the guiding principles of the EU. It is now self-evident that the Schengen system has, if not collapsed, is not really functioning at all and it seems highly likely that border controls will be re-introduced with time-consuming and costly effect on the free movement of goods and services.  There are also increasing concerns about how this will impact on the free movement of labour.  The notion that the EU is a community is also threatened over the question of EU quotas for asylum seekers.  Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have rejected any quota system creating an intense division between the eastern and western halves of the EU.  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the surge in arrivals was ‘Germany's problem’, since that was where most people wanted to go.But Chancellor Merkel has called for refugees to be fairly divided among EU members. 

A Syrian refugee holds onto his daughter as he waits to cross into Turkey

Growing pressure in the UK with a petition calling for Britain to take on more refugees now has almost 400,000 signatures - four times the amount needed for the issue to be considered for debate by MPs, has led David Cameron to modify the government’s stance.  On Friday, during a visit to Portugal and Spain, he said the UK would act with ‘our head and our heart’ on a major expansion of the programme to resettle vulnerable refugees from the camps bordering Syria and that the scheme would avoid the need for the refugees to make hazardous attempts to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, which has seen thousands perish in recent months.  Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Justine Greening has dismissed the prospect of Britain joining a proposed EU plan to redistribute the 160,000 migrants already in Europe, arguing that it ‘simply fuels the people smuggling business’.  While this represents a speeding up rather than a shift in policy—4,980 Syrians have been granted asylum since 2011 and the UK is providing significant humanitarian aid to refugees in the countries surrounding Syria—it does little to address the current situation across Europe and is designed to appeal to a domestic audience.

So in practice, despite the pictures of death and despair, little has really changed in the last week…refugees are still moving towards Europe in considerable numbers, the EU seems incapable of finding any solution on which its member states can agree and public opinion is increasingly outraged by this.  

Ballarat: positioning Eureka

Ballarat lies in an undulating area of the midland plains made up of alluvial sediment and volcanic flows and contains large areas of rich agricultural soil. [1] It was first settled in 1838 when William Cross Yuille and Henry Anderson established a stock station on the shores of the Black Swamp, now known as Lake Wendouree. ‘Balla’ ‘Arat’ was derived from the native meaning for resting or camping place. [2] Gold was discovered at Ballarat in August 1851 [3] and within a fortnight, there were 400 people successfully digging for gold around Golden Point, at the foot of Black Hill and on both sides of the Yarrowee River and increased to 20,000 diggers during 1852. [4] The massive influx of people brought an end to the area as a pastoral backwater and the local landscape was soon transformed and disfigured. William Bramwell Withers (1823-1913) pointed out that before 1851:

the kangaroos leaped unharmed down the ranges, and fed upon the green slopes and flats where the Yarrowee rolled its clear water along its winding course down the valley. [5]

But the discovery of gold altered the tranquillity of the area and:

…the green banks of the Yarrowee were lined with tubs and cradles, its clear waters were changed to liquid yellow as the yellowest Tiber flood, and its banks grew to be long shoals of tailings. [6]

The main street, Lydiard Street in 1857 looking west from the government camp.

A tent city sprang into existence and the early diggers peacefully devised ways of organising the goldfields. [7] Nonetheless, the Victorian Government acted quickly sending Commissioners within weeks to collect the gold license fee. [8] The first Resident Gold Commissioner, Francis Doverton, was a former military officer and such was his zeal that he began collecting the fee before it was due to come into effect. This led to significant resentment and violence was only averted because of the moderation of the diggers. [9] By 24 September 1851, 160 licenses had been taken out and before fresh supplies arrived on 6 October, 1,300 handwritten licenses were issued. [10] License inspections and police duties at Ballarat were the responsibility of mounted police and a detachment of the Native Police Corps led by Captain Henry Dana were despatched to the diggings.[11] The commissioners and troopers camped on a little hill behind the Golden Point.

La Trobe visited the field in October and was impressed by the ability of the diggers to pay the license fee.[12] On his return to Melbourne, he considered Doverton’s inability to extract the fee from every digger and moved him to Mount Alexander appointing William Mair, a police magistrate and inspector of police as his successor. [13] The first gold rush at Ballarat proved a false start. The layer of gold-bearing gravel near the surface was quickly exhausted and the opening of the Mount Alexander diggings in October 1851 saw an exodus of diggers to the new field. [14] By December 1851, only a few hundred of the 5,000 diggers who had been in Ballarat in October remained but La Trobe decided to make the settlement permanent and sent W. A. Urquhart to survey and lay out the first goldfield town. Though this was widely ridiculed at the time and by the beginning of 1852, the site was almost deserted, it proved a prescient decision.

Some teams, convinced there might be a deeper gold-bearing layer, sank shafts beneath the shallow gravel beds. Others followed the shallow layer as it gradually became deeper. A number of rich gold bearing leads were located and in May 1852, it was reported that new diggings named the Eureka Leads had been located north of Golden Point but because they were up to fifty metres deep miners had to work in teams to exploit their riches. [15] Deep leads mining was more dangerous, more labour intensive and required more capital than other forms of gold mining. Parties of up to twelve men, often of the same nationality worked round the clock, four on each shift, on claims about four metres square. Shafts in dry ground were circular but those through water-bearing strata were rectangular and lagged with timber from the hills around Ballarat that were soon denuded of trees. In 1853, £55,200 of gold was taken from a single claim and, in total; the Deep Leads at Ballarat yielded 8.4 million ounces of gold.


[1] Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat from the First Pastoral Settlement to the Present Time, 1st ed., (The Ballarat Star Office), 1870, 2nd ed., (F. W. Nevans and Co.), 1887, was among the first Australian local histories. Two modern studies of the development of the town are Bate, Weston, Lucky City: The First Generation at Ballarat 1851-1901, (Melbourne University Press), 1978, and Reid, John, Chisholm, John, and Harris, Max, Ballaarat Golden City: A Pictorial History, (Joval, Bacchus Marsh), 1989, reprinted 1999.  On Withers see, Austin McCallum, 'Withers, William Bramwell (1823–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/withers-william-bramwell-4879/text8161, published first in hardcopy 1976

[2] The Argus used both Ballaarat and Ballarat, often on the same page. Prior to amalgamation of the councils in 1994, the municipality of the City of Ballaarat was the official spelling for the corporation Council, though the official spelling for place-name purposes of the area (then comprised of several municipalities) was Ballarat. When a unitary City Council was established in 1994, the single ‘a’ version was adopted for the corporation. See ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, pp. 10, 13.

[3] ‘Ballarat Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 6 September 1851, p. 2.

[4] Rash, K., ‘The discovery of gold at Ballarat’, Victorian Historical Magazine, Vol. 25, (1954), pp. 133-143.

[5] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, p. 9.

[6] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, p. 36.

[7] ‘The Ballarat Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 19 September 1851, p. 2, stated that 73 tents and huts had been built in Ballarat with 300 more scattered across the area.

[8] Geelong Advertiser, 20 September 1851, p. 2, ‘Commissioner Armstrong left Melbourne a few days ago for the Ballarat gold field…’

[9] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, p. 35.

[10] Ballarat Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 26 September 1851, p. 2, indicated that licenses had been paid.

[11] ‘Ballarat Diggings, Geelong Advertiser, 26 September 1851, p. 2.

[12] Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1851, p. 2, Geelong Advertiser, 10 October 1851, p. 2, reported that La Trobe was ‘warmly cheered’ and was ‘well received’ in Ballarat.

[13] Sheehy, Thomas, ‘William Mair, (1806-1904)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 199-200.

[14] Ibid, Flett, J., The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria, pp. 345-370, considers the development of gold at Ballarat in the 1850s.

[15] ‘Eureka Diggings’, Geelong Advertiser, 23 July 1852, p. 2. ‘Geelong Gold Circular’, Argus, 27 September 1852, p. 4, commented that ‘the Eureka is equal in richness to the best field ever opened…’