Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Defending the Stockade

Heavy and continuous fire between the rebels and soldiers lasted for about ten minutes during which the men of the 40th wavered. At this point several of the men held in reserve, who appeared to think the attack had stalled, rushed forward and managed to get into the Stockade although they were promptly chased out by rebels armed with pikes and retired to their own lines. Blake’s explanation for this is that either the soldiers acted on their own initiative or that an unnamed officer in the reserve decided to take matters into his own hands and ordered some soldiers from his own regiment to rush the Stockade.[1]

Peter Lalor

The rebels were well protected by their fortifications but the volume of fire on the Stockade increased. The group of about 40 assault troops from the 40th Regiment, under the command of Captain Wise, attacking the Stockade from the north side, gradually edged forward. In addition, the soldiers on Stockyard Hill and at the Free Trade Hotel also brought fire to bear on the rebels. About 70 mounted troops from the 40th approached from the northeast, 112 foot soldiers from the 12th and 40th Regiments from the west and 70 mounted police rode from the south-west. The Stockade was now flanked and within ten minutes of the initial attack, it had been breached on its northern and western flanks. [2] The Argus commented:

Had the diggers fired longer the losses to the military would have been immense, and they, as it was, acted with a precision and regularity admired even by the officers of the military. [3]

Peter Lalor attempted to bring order to the confusion but soon recognised that the rebels had lost any tactical advantage they had and that their position was tactically untenable but that they no option but to fight. Lalor’s emphasis on the paucity of weapons and ammunition is contradicted by the military reports that spoke of the level and regularity of fire from the rebels:

There were about 70 men possessing guns, 20 with pikes, and 30 with pistols, but many of those firearms had no more than one or two rounds of ammunition.

If they attempted to surrender, they would have been cut down by the withering fire that was directed at them. As the soldiers fixed bayonets, charged and clambered into the Stockade, many rebels fled. Although Lalor’s account is suspect in many respects, he later wrote:

About three o’clock am on Sunday morning the alarm was given that ‘the enemy’ was advancing…on discovering the smallness of our numbers we would have retreated, but it was then too late, as almost immediately, the military poured in one or two volleys of musketry, which was a plain intimation that we must sell our lives as dearly as we could.


Beryl Ireland, Eureka Stockade, 1891
Lalor then jumped up on a mound and ordered the diggers to stop firing, and save their ammunition until the soldiers and police were within range. He ordered the pikemen forward, but it was only a few minutes before he was shot in the shoulder and ordered his men to save themselves as he was hidden under some wood:

About ten minutes after the beginning of the fight, and while standing on the top of a hole, calling on the pikemen to come forward, I received a musket ball (together with two other smaller bullets) in the left shoulder, which shattered my arm, and from the loss of blood I was rendered incapable of further action. Soon after, I was assisted by a volunteer out of the enclosure and placed in a pile of slabs out of view of the military & police. While in this position, the latter passed several times within feet of me. I remained there about an hour, when, thanks to the assistance of some friends I was able to leave… On the approach of night I returned to the diggings, and through the kindness of a friend, procured the assistance of surgeons, who next day amputated my arm. [4]

Ross, whose company of rebels defended the northern part of the Stockade, fell soon after. About 30 pikemen, under the leadership of Patrick Curtain tried to hold the advance long enough to allow many of the diggers to flee the stockade but at a dreadful cost and only a handful survived:

After several volleys had been fired on both sides, the barrier of ropes, slabs and overturned carts was crossed, and the defenders driven out, or into the shallow holes with which the place was spotted, and in which many were put to death in the first heat of the conflict, either by bullets or by bayonet thrusts. The foot police were first over the barricade, and one, climbing the flagstaff under a heavy fire, secured the rebel flag. [5]

The remaining 20 or 30 Californian Rangers under the leadership of Charles Ferguson had left the Stockade at around 1.00 am to look for a cache of arms. Fearing that they had been lured out of the Stockade, Ferguson returned with his men just before the Stockade was attacked by the government forces. [6] By now, many of the diggers lay wounded:

When Captain Wise fell the men cheered, and were over the Stockade in a second, and then bayonet and pike went to work. The diggers fought well and fierce, not a word spoken on either side until all was over. The blacksmith who made the pikes was killed by Lieut. Richards, 40th Regiment. Honour to his name, he fought well and died gloriously. It was rumoured that at this time the police were cruel to the wounded and prisoners. No such thing. The police did nothing but their duty, and they did it well for men that were not accustomed to scenes of blood or violence. To my knowledge there was only one wounded man despatched, and he kept swinging his pike about his head as he sat on the ground. His two legs were broken, and he had a musket ball in his body. He could not live, and it was best to despatch him. His name was O’Neill, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland. [7]

Those who tried to escape were run down by the cavalry that had now surrounded the Stockade. Within 15 to 20 minutes of the first shot been fired, the back of the rebellion had been broken, the troops and police were in complete control of the Stockade. What had been a gallant defence now became a rout as rebels fled for their lives.

‘It was not in the Stockade that they killed the majority of diggers, but in the running away’

A lot of diggers commenced to run away, and after the shooting was done I saw Ned Flynn run into an old chimney, and a soldier ran up to him and stuck him in the neck with a bayonet. Everyone they caught they slaughtered. It was not in the Stockade that they killed the majority of diggers, but in the running away.[8]

Charles Evans wrote in the immediate aftermath of the attack:

Cowardly and monstrous cruelties such as these made up the bloody tragedy of this morning. It is a dark indelible strain on a British Government – a deed which can be fitly placed side by side with the treacheries and cold blooded cruelties of Austria & Russia.[9]

The correspondent of the Argus reported:

When the soldiers had once tasted blood they became violent, and had not the officers used every exertion the prisoners would have been murdered on the spot. [10]

Peter Lalor wrote three months after the massacre:
As the inhuman brutalities practised by the troops are so well known, it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. There were 34 digger casualties at which 22 died. The unusual proportion of the killed to the wounded is owing to the butchery of the military and troopers after the surrender. [11]

This was repeated in following years by other Eureka rebels who insisted that most of the killing took place outside the Stockade after all resistance had ceased. It is only recently that Eureka has been described as a massacre. Although the atrocities were widely reported in the Australian press, this element of the attack had been neglected. [12] This is surprising since contemporary reactions to the massacre resulted in the authorities’ use of armed force diminishing not enhancing their authority. The problem, Blake argues, is that this means accepting ‘at face value so-called eyewitness accounts of a massacre.’ [13] There is no dispute about the carnage caused after the soldiers fought their way in the Stockade when man-to-man contests and the bayonet replaced the more anonymous nature of volley fire. This was conflict at its most personal and bloody and was not unusual in the heat of battle. It was recognised by contemporaries such as Huyghue who wrote that ‘that men when generally let loose upon an enemy are not angels’ and by John Molony who correctly argued that men ‘in the fury of battle, commits atrocities which the so called logic of war renders inevitable’.

Between 5.00 am when the diggers’ defence crumbled until 7.00 am, the killing continued. [14] The police were at the forefront of the atrocities burning everything within the Stockade and shooting at whatever moved. Even the Irish priest Father Smyth was denied access to the wounded, some of whom were Catholics and was forced out of the Stockade at pistol point. The killing went on for over an hour after the diggers had surrendered and occurred up to half a mile from the Stockade. People were killed who were not involved in the protest and had not taken up arms against the colonial authorities. Bodies were mutilated; one digger’s corpse had 16 bayonet wounds. Henry Powell a digger from Creswick, whose tent was well outside the Stockade, was surrounded by around 20 mounted police. He was struck on the head with a sword by Arthur Akehurst, the Clerk of the Peace who had enlisted as a special constable and then shot several times by the police, who then rode their horses over his body. [15] However, Powell survived long enough to make a statement before he died on 9 December.[16] An inquest’s verdict concluded that Akehurst had killed him, something he denied. Akehurst was charged with murder but the case was dismissed when Powell’s dying deposition was ruled inadmissible. [17]

There was however, no evidence to connect Akehurst to the murder except the dying statement of the deceased; but before this statement could be received and admitted as evidence, it be shewn that the deceased believed he was in a dying state, and should be taken before magistrate, and ought to be, if possible, taken in the presence of the accused.; and His honor would have to decide as to the propriety of admitting this statement. The Solicitor-General himself felt doubts as to the admissibility of this evidence, and would call the attention of the court to it without knowing what the feelings of the accused might be in the matter, or calling on counsel on the opposite side to make an objection. [18] Raffaelo Carboni was among those who believed Akehurst got off on a technicality.

It was reported that three soldiers jumped a digger after he had been shot through the legs, one knelt on his chest, one tried to choke him while the third went through his pockets looking for gold. ‘Foreigners’ bore the brunt of the attack. Two Italian diggers, who had not taken part in the rebellion, were killed. One who had his tent a quarter of a mile from the Stockade was killed by mounted police and troopers. The other whose tent was in the Stockade was shot through the thigh and as he lay wounded, told the troopers that he would give them his gold if they left him alone. After taking his gold, they bayoneted him through the chest. One of the most unlikely targets in the early hours of Sunday morning was Frank Hasleham, a reporter for the Melbourne Morning Herald, a newspaper that had consistently supported the government in its fight against the diggers. A quarter of a mile from the Stockade he was met by mounted police who shot him through the chest. As he lay wounded, he hoped the ‘diggers would desist from their madness’. [19]

At 7.00 am, it was decided to round up all the diggers left inside and outside the stockade. Captain Pasley, sickened by the carnage, saved a group of prisoners from being bayoneted and threatened to shoot any police or soldiers who continued the indiscriminate slaughter. 114 diggers, some wounded were rounded up, marched to the Camp where they were firmly convinced they would be summarily hanged but were herded into a space that was normally used for six. Even so the authorities were concerned about people’s reaction if large numbers of rebels died in custody and at 2.00 am on Monday morning Rede moved the prisoners to the camp storehouse. His problem was that it was no longer possible to distinguish between those who had been taken in or about the Stockade and those who had been apprehended in the vicinity. The Melbourne Herald gave a graphic account of the scene after the battle:

I was attracted by the smoke of the tents burnt by the soldiers, and there a most appalling site presented itself. Many more are said to have been killed and wounded, but I myself saw eleven dead bodies of diggers lying within a very small space of ground, and the earth was besprinkled with blood, and covered with the smoking mass of tents recently occupied. Could the Government but have seen the awful sight presented at Ballarat on this Sabbath morning- the women in tears, mourning over their dead relations, and the blood-bespattered countenances of many men in the diggers’ camp, it might have occurred to His Excellency that ‘prevention is better than cure’. [20]

The battle had been decisive but the ‘massacre’, whatever its military explanation, once know so revolted the community of Victoria that any return to the old ways was impossible. [21]

Many of the leaders in the Stockade fled though Timothy Hayes and John Manning were arrested and Carboni who was not in the Stockade at the time of the attack remained to help tend to the wounded until he too was arrested around 8.30 am. Kennedy and Black, in disguise, made for Geelong but apparently got lost, Kennedy ending up as a bullock driver whilst Black eventually reached Melbourne. Esmond, whose original discovery of gold started the rush, was among those in the Stockade, and he too made for Geelong. There were many accounts of Lalor’s escape but the account by Stephen Cummings, a close friend is the fullest:

After the soldiers and police retired, Lalor was put on Father Smyth’s horse, and he rode into the ranges and got shelter in a tent near Warrenheip…I suggested that his arm would have to come off and that Father Smyth’s house would be safer…The next thing was to get a doctor, and I went for Doctor Doyle of Golden Point, who said it was a case of amputation. ‘All right’ said Lalor, ‘let’s know the worst’. He was a very brave man, with all his defects. Dr Gibson and Dr Stewart and I were there while Doyle performed the operation…A few days after that a messenger came to me from Lalor. I went and found him in a bed in a small tent on Black Hill Flat, where there was only just room for a man to lie down. We got him shifted to a nice large tent belonging to Michael Hayes at the foot of Black Hill. He stayed there until he got a carrier named Carroll and little Tommy Marks to take him to Geelong. [22]

How many rebels died or were wounded in the initial battle and subsequent carnage is far from clear. [23] As at Newport, some of the wounded managed to find their way home to die later. Lalor’s estimate was fourteen killed, eight wounded and twelve wounded but recovered. [24] However, as he admitted, he did not include Powell and Rowlands who were killed near their own tents and who played no part in the movement. [25] The list of those killed at Eureka and registered on 20 June 1855 by Ballarat’s Registrar, William Poole, numbered twenty-seven. Information about casualties among the military is more precise. Three privates lay dead or dying, Michael Rooney, Joseph Wall and William Webb, twelve more were wounded and Captain Wise was also wounded and subsequently died. Unlike the military, the actual location of the burials of diggers killed at the Eureka Stockade was not precisely recorded in documentation that has survived. One of the officers later informed Withers:

The number of insurgents killed is estimated as from thirty-five to forty, and many of those brought in wounded afterwards died…The bodies of the insurgents, placed in rough coffins made hurriedly, were laid in a separate grave, the burial service being performed by the clergyman to whose congregation they belonged.[26]

John Molony states, ‘The diggers were initially put to rest near the spot where Scobie fell, while the soldiers were interred at the cemetery near Yuille’s Swamp off the Creswick Road’. [27] Some of those wounded in the Stockade lingered on, Frederick Coxhead, for example did not succumb until May 1856. [28] In 1857, Captain Ross, James Brown, Edward Thonen, the lemonade seller and the blacksmith were re-interred with the other bodies of those killed at Eureka. [29]

[1] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 156-157.
[2] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 164-172, considers events in the Stockade once the troops breached its defences.
[3] ‘Fatal Collision at Ballaarat’, Argus, 4 December 1854, p. 5.
[4] Argus, 10 April 1855, reprinted in ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, p. 11.
[5] Letter from Government Officer printed in ibid, Withers, W. B., The History of Ballarat, p. 106.
[6] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 144-150, examines the significant contribution of the Californians to the defence of the Stockade and why this was air-brushed out of subsequent accounts of the action.
[7] ‘With regard to the Attack on the Stockade, the author has a letter signed ‘John Neill, late of the 40th Regiment’, and dated from Devil’s Gully on 7 February, 1870, printed in ibid, Withers, W. B., The History of Ballarat, pp. 123-124.
[8] Evidence of Shanahan, a storekeeper in the Stockade printed in ibid, Withers, W. B., The History of Ballarat, p. 117.
[9] Evans gives a graphic account of the aftermath of the attack on the Stockade. Other than what he assumed was a dream of the sound of volley fire, he appears to have slept through the whole assault. SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 3 December 1854, pp. 131-138, at p. 137.
[10] ‘Geelong’, Argus, 5 December 1854, p. 4.
[11] Argus, 10 April 1855, reprinted in ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, pp. 11-12.
[12] Ibid, O’Brien, Bob, Massacre at Eureka, includes a previously unpublished eyewitness account by Samuel Douglas Smyth Huyghue.
[13] Cit, ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, p. 187.
[14] ‘Geelong’, Argus, 5 December 1854, p. 4, give a succinct account of the ‘massacre’. Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 186-203, considers the ‘massacre’.
[15] Dunstan, David, ‘Arthur Purssell Akehurst (1836-1902)’, ADB, Supplementary Volume, pp. 6-7. SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 11 December 1854, p. 153, discusses Powell’s inquest.
[16] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, pp. 107-108, prints Powell’s deposition; see also, ‘Ballaarat’, Argus 15 December 1854, pp. 4-5, for a further attack on the behaviour of troopers: ‘the tyrannical and arbitrary treatment to which the people have been subjected to by the troopers.’.
[17] Akehurst was the only Ballarat official brought to trial as a result of the massacre. The inquest into the death of Henry Powell occurred on 11 December and, because of the unsworn statement made by Powell, Akehurst was brought to trial on a charge of manslaughter. On 18 January 1855, he was found not guilty.
[18] Argus, 19 January 1855, p. 3.
[19] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, pp. 109-110, prints Hasleham’s deposition.
[20] Melbourne Herald, 5 December 1854.
[21] Ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, p. 165.
[22] Argus, 1 July 1899.
[23] Wickham, Dorothy, Deaths at Eureka, (Ballarat Heritage Services), 1996.
[24] Argus, 10 April 1855, reprinted in ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, pp. 12-13.
[25] Ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, p. 11.
[26] ‘Letter from Government Officer’, printed in ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, pp. 106-107.
[27] Ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, p. 166.
[28] Melbourne Herald, 12 May 1856.
[29] Melbourne Herald, 2 December 1857.

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