Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Deploying the troops

Around 2.30 am, Rede mobilised nearly 300 police and soldiers, more than double the number of miners left in the Stockade. There were 77 men of the 40th under Captain Wise and 65 men of the 12th Regiment under Captain William Meade. Lieutenant Charles Hall led 30 men of the 40th Regiment’s mounted company accompanied by 24 police on foot and 70 police mounted commanded by Sub-Inspector Taylor. [1] Thomas commanded the force and Pasley acted as his aide-de-camp. The remaining 200 men were left in the camp under Captain Atkinson in case reinforcements were needed and to guard against surprise attack from the rebels not in the Stockade. They were armed with 1842 muskets, with an average rate of fire of two rounds a minute but notoriously inaccurate and carried around sixty rounds of ammunition. The 17 officers were armed with British Pattern 1845 infantry swords and did not carry firearms in the battle. The weapons at the disposable of the military and police may not have been superior to the diggers’ rifles and crudely manufactured pikes but they were in the hands of professionals. [2]

The precise route of Thomas’ march has been unclear since the event. [3] The Government Camp was about two miles from the Eureka Stockade and the troops fell into their ranks between the Camp and Soldiers’ Hill. They remained there in complete silence until 3.10 am when they began silently marching southeast, hiding behind Black Hill before striking out towards the Stockade. They halted near the Free Trade Hotel about 250 yards from their objective and then advanced from behind the hotel towards the Stockade. By this time dawn was breaking, Captain Thomas and Charles Hackett and their men marched towards the Stockade on their horses. When they were around 150 yards from the Stockade, firing began. There has been much controversy about who fired the first shot. [4] Lalor was always adamant that ‘The military fired the first volley, which one company of the insurgents returned much sooner than I wished…’ [5] Ferguson later wrote:

The Fortieth regiment was advancing, but had not as yet discharged a shot. We could now see plainly the officer and hear his orders, when one of our men, Captain Burnette, stepped a little in front, elevated his rifle, took aim and fired. The officer fell. Captain Wise was his name. This was the first shot in the Ballarat war. It was said by many that the soldiers fired the first shot, but that is not true, as is well known to many. [6]


Charles Hackett, who according to Carboni, was the only government official at Ballarat not detested by the diggers testified that ‘No shots were fired by the military or the police, previous to shots being fired from the stockade’.[7] According to Withers, one of the Eureka leaders later stated ‘The first shot was fired from our party’. [8] Desmond O’Grady claims that it was a sentry, Harry de Longville, who noticed the troops and police and fired the first shot around 4.20 am, although possibly he may be referring here to a warning shot to rouse the diggers left in the Stockade. [9] Indeed, a letter from a soldier at Eureka, John Neill of the 40th Regiment, said:

The party had not advanced three hundred yards before we were seen by the rebel sentry, who fired, not at our party, but to warn his party in the Stockade. He was on Black Hill. Captain Thomas turned his head in the direction of the shot, and said ‘We are seen. Forward, and steady men! Don’t fire; let the insurgents fire first. You must wait for the sound of the bugle’. [10]

It seems probable that the first shot, fired either as a warning or directly at the advancing troops came from the Stockade. This was followed by a volley fired by the diggers as the soldiers and police advanced. At this point Captain Thomas gave the order to commence firing and the police and military moved forward rapidly in an attempt to maximise the confusion among the miners caused by the surprise attack:

…At about 150 yards we were received by a rather sharp and well directed fire from the rebels, without word or challenge on their part. Then, and not till then, I ordered the bugle to sound the ‘Commence Firing’. For about ten minutes a heavy fire was kept up by the troops advancing, which was replied to by the rebels. During this time, I brought up the infantry supports and foot police. The entrenchment was then carried, and I ordered the firing to cease. [11]


The attack on the Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, drawn December 1854; Source: from the map by S. D. S. Huyghue in Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, 2nd ed., Ballarat. 1887.

[1] The 12th Foot East Suffolk Regiment served in Australia between 1854 and 1867 and the 40th Foot (2nd Somerset) Regiment between 1823 and 1829 and 1852 and 1860.
[2] Ibid, Smith, Neil C., Soldiers Bleed Too, is a valuable corrective on events.
[3] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 113-121.
[4] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 127-134, considers the evidence.
[5] Argus, 10 April 1855, reprinted in ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, p. 12.
[6] Ferguson, Charles D., The Experiences of a Forty-Niner in Australia and New Zealand, (Gaston Renard), 1979, p. 60.
[7] Currey, C. H., The Irish at Eureka, (Angus and Robertson), 1954, pp. 68-69.
[8] Ibid, Withers, W. B., The History of Ballarat, p. 109.
[9] Ibid, O’Grady, Desmond, Raffaelo! Raffaelo, p. 159.
[10] Ibid, Withers, W. B., The History of Ballarat, pp. 123-124.

[11] First Report from the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Ballarat Outbreak Petition, 1856, Appendix A: Claims for Compensation, pp. ix-x, evidence taken, 6 July 1855, printed in Anderson, Hugh, (ed.), Eureka: Victorian Parliamentary Papers, Votes and Proceedings 1854-1867, (Hill of Content), 1969.

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