Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Stockade

The precise function of the Stockade is also a matter of dispute. [1] The authorities clearly saw its construction and the swearing of oaths to a flag not of the sovereign country as dangerous acts of rebellion. Their view was reinforced by its construction across the Melbourne road, the most practical way for reinforcements to reach Ballarat. This was not Lalor’s view when he highlighted its role in early 1855. [2] He went to great pains to emphasise that his intention in building the Stockade was not warlike:
Well-grounded fears being entertained that Government spies would mix with the volunteers, and betray their movements, and it also being found necessary that a distinct place should be marked off, in which the men could muster together and be drilled, a piece of ground at Eureka was enclosed with slabs for that purpose…The government laid great stress on the erection of this enclosure, and have dignified it with the titles of stockade, barricade, fortified entrenchment, and camp. It may suit their policy to give it these titles, but in plain truth, it was nothing more than an enclosure to keep our men together, and was never erected with an eye to military defence…It is of importance to observe that we never contemplated remaining within the enclosure till attacked. [3]
Lalor’s view of the Stockade, something Carboni supported, was of a poor even flimsy structure that was never conceived in terms of military defence but simply a means of keeping his men together. Those who attacked it took a different view seeing it as a reasonably solid structure capable of resisting musket balls and a barrier to horsemen.[4] Although it was not capable of resisting an artillery attack, it certainly provided protection for its defenders against small-arms fire.
Although there are many contemporary accounts of what the Stockade looked like, there is no definitive description. Situated at the point where the Eureka Lead took its bend by the old Melbourne Road, its precise location was not resolved until the 1990s. [5] There is also some disagreement about the evolution of the Stockade. Although a basic structure was begun on the Thursday 30 November, Carboni said Vern superintended its building on Friday 1 December, following instructions from Lalor.[6] However, Stephen Cummins who had been on watch on Friday night awoke next morning to see the Stockade being completed. It seems probable that initial construction began on Thursday and not completed until Friday but that during the Saturday morning, it was further strengthened. As to its size: Carboni described at as covering an acre of land, while others estimated that it was four times larger but it also included some tents, huts, a store and several shafts[7]
Huyghue, a clerk at the Government Camp, described it as a semi-circle while Assistant-Commissioner Amos saw it as a parallelogram, stated that the timber breastwork was in some places nearly seven feet high and consisted of various materials such as felled trees, branches, bags of sand, and towards the Melbourne road, partly overturned carts. [8] It was, however, largely made of thick slabs that were normally used to timber shafts. The split posts were inserted into a trench about four feet in depth, the round sides facing inwards and the rough split sides to the exterior of the Stockade. [9]
Marlene Gilson: Mount Warrenhelp and Eureka Stockade, 2013
‘The Aboriginal people played a big role on the Ballarat goldfields and at the Eureka Stockade—my ancestors the Wadawurrung clan cared for the miners’ children in the bush as the battle raged. I also acknowledge the Woirung and Boonerung clans, proud native police and black trackers. They all are a part of Ballarat’s history.’
It is evident that the Stockade was a stronger defensive position that Lalor and others admitted. Events during the assault indicate that it was of reasonably strong construction providing adequate cover from musket fire for the rebels sheltering behind its slabs for at least ten minutes. The major problem was that the rebels were not engineers and the area enclosed was too large to be defended. The Stockade may have been a physical challenge to an increasingly isolated Government Camp and provided a protected headquarters for the rebellion but how it was viewed depended on what the intention of the rebels was. Those who were involved in the rebellion had a vested interest in its aftermath to play down or even deny the confrontational intentions of the rebels. Carboni may well have been right when he lamented the rebels being seduced by their militaristic infatuations. [10]

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