Friday, 29 January 2016

The Ballarat Reform League

‘Monster meetings’ came late to Ballarat but series of increasingly large gatherings were held on Bakery Hill through October and November that were addressed by some with experience of Chartist movement. Catholics had held a meeting there on 15 October, followed by meetings on 17 October before the burning of the Eureka Hotel and the following day where Catholics restated their demands. There was a spontaneous meeting on 21 October after the committal of McIntyre and Fletcher and on Monday 23 October, Bakery Hill was again the focal point for digger action. This meeting decided to form a Diggers Rights Society to help curb future unconstitutional actions by the Camp. Ballarat was made up of many different nationalities but leadership of the diggers’ movement remained stubbornly in the hands of men whose allegiance was to Britain. Its three leaders John Basson Humffray, George Black and Henry Holyoake were strongly Chartist in outlook and their contribution to the formation of the Ballarat Reform League was crucial.

Thomas F. Flintoff, John Basson Humffray, 1859

Humffray, law clerk from Wales and proprietor of The Leader became the first president of the League. [1] George Black had been the owner of the Gold Diggers’ Advocate, a newspaper that represented the opinions of the disaffected in the goldfield.[2] Although the Advocate took a radical line, Black and his two colleagues favoured the use of ‘moral persuasion’ to achieve their goals. Lalor was still a minor figure standing aloof from organised protest. While the Riot Enquiry was taking evidence, protest meetings took on a more organised character and the Ballarat Reform League assumed an embryonic form at this time. [3] The leadership broadened digger protest beyond the unjust licensing system and corrupt administration by campaigning for digger representation on the Legislative Council and the opening of land for small farms. Vying with Humffray for leadership of the movement were Frederick Vern, a volatile German and Thomas Kennedy, a Chartist of Scottish origin who had become a Baptist preacher and took a more confrontational approach, necessary they maintained, to convince the authorities of the need for change.

On Wednesday 1 November, the committee gave an account of proceedings in the Fletcher and McIntyre cases.[4] Humffray as secretary had ended the meeting with:

…Diggers, be calm but determined, and then, with truth and justice on your side, the knell of the colonial tyranny will be rung.

Although already active for several weeks, the Ballarat Reform League began officially on Saturday 11 November 1854 with a meeting on Bakery Hill. Timothy Hayes was unanimously voted to the Chair with Humffray as secretary. Thomas Kennedy called on ‘Brother Diggers’ to be united advising them to obey the law while denying the legality of the license tax. In colourful terms, he spoke of the tyranny of officials and added by swearing that while he would die for the Queen, he would shed the last drop of his blood before paying another license fee. The crowd roared its approval and Kennedy was carried outside where he was joined by Vern and Humffray. By now the number of diggers had swollen to 10,000 and the Ballarat Reform League was officially launched with Humffray as President, Timothy Hayes as Chairman and George Black as Secretary.

The diggers’ grievances and the political changes contemplated by the League were recorded in the Bakery Hill Charter.[5] This had taken shape by early November 1854 in a note presented to the Riot Enquiry but it was not until 11 November 1854 that it was adopted as the diggers’ platform in language strongly reminiscent of the People’s Charter of 1838. The first proposal was for ‘full and fair representation’, the right of goldfield residents to stand for parliament and vote in elections. The others were manhood suffrage, no property qualifications for Members for the Legislative Council, payment for members and short, fixed-term parliaments. At local level, the League wanted the immediate ‘disbanding’ of the Gold Commissioners and the ‘total abolition of the diggers’ and storekeepers’ license tax’. They also intended to issue ‘cards of membership’ of the League, divide Ballarat into districts within ‘a few days’ and to commence ‘a thorough and organised agitation on the gold fields and in the towns’. [6] The Argus reported that separate unions for Irish and German diggers had been formed independently of the League and that ‘their objects are more specific as to the forming themselves into armed bodies to make resistance a sad reality.’ [7]


The principles of the Charter went to the heart of popular constitutionalism maintaining that every citizen had:

…an ‘inalienable right…to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey…

It also stated that the goldfield communities had been ‘hitherto unrepresented’ in Parliament and had been subjected to bad and unjust laws. To that extent, they had been ‘tyrannized over’ so that they had:

…a duty as well as interest to resist and, if necessary, to remove the irresponsible power which so tyrannizes over them.

Not content with a statement of principles, the authors of the Charter moved to the ultimate source of their discontent speaking directly to Queen Victoria who was warned that firm action would be taken unless ‘equal laws and equal rights’ were ‘dealt out to the whole free community’ of the colony named after her.

The authors of the Charter were careful in their choice of words and there is no indication that they thought their demands were excessive or that the authorities had any right to reject them. The first action proposed by the League if demands were not met was to separate Victoria from Great Britain. Separation was not a declaration of independence from the Crown, but the League made it clear that it would take those steps if:Queen Victoria continues to act upon the ill advice of dishonest ministers and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for the colony, under the assumed authority of the Royal prerogative.

It reminded the monarch that there was another and higher source of power in a prerogative that was ‘the most royal of all’ that lay with ‘the people [who] are the only legitimate source of all political power’ and proposed to use that power if forced to do so and supersede the ‘Royal prerogative’. This drew on a long tradition that the Royal Prerogative must be exercised only for the common good of the people. The prerogative singled out was the appointment of public authorities, including Hotham and his ministers. Although undertaken on the advice of the British Prime Minister and Cabinet, such appointments were technically made under the prerogative of the Crown. The Charter made it plain that, at whatever cost, the diggers would take all necessary steps to prevent the use of the Royal Prerogative in Victoria unless the reforms they demanded were introduced. This platform for change and especially its belief that all power resided in the people proved a ‘revolutionary’ proposition for Australia.

Henry Seekamp,[8] the fiery editor of the Ballarat Times, wrote that the League:

…was nothing more or less than the germ of Australian independence. The die is cast, and fate has stamped upon the movement its indelible signature. No power on earth can now restrain the united might and headlong strides for freedom of the people of this country… Bakery Hill is obtaining a creditable notoriety, as the rallying ground for Australian Freedom. It must never be forgotten in the future history of this great country, that on Saturday, Nov. 11, 1854, on Bakery Hill, and in the presence of about ten thousand men, was first proposed, and unanimously adopted, the draft prospectus of Australian Independence. [9]

Whatever he made of the Charter, Hotham was clearly concerned when he heard the League’s proposals and recognised the seriousness of the situation. What began as a conflict over the financial interests of diggers had been transformed into a struggle involving citizens’ rights and dignity. The business interest and the squatters were also anxious about events in Ballarat. They were given assurances by the government that it was in control of the situation, but doubts remained after the defiance of the mob at Bentley’s hotel. Squatters had already seen their control over the Legislative Council weakened by the business interest and faced increasing demands, especially from diggers to open at least part of their land. Diggers threatened their wealth and power and Hotham looked on them as firm allies in any potential struggle.

[1] Langmore, Diane L., ‘John Basson Humffray (1824-1891)’, ADB, Vol. 4, pp. 444-445.
[2] Pickering, Paul A., ‘Mercenary Scribblers’ and ‘Polluted Quills’: The Chartist Press in Australia and New Zealand’, in Allen, Joan, and Ashton, Owen R., (eds.), Papers for the People: A Study of the Chartist Press, (Merlin Press), 2005, pp. 200-204, examines the Gold Diggers’ Advocate.
[3] ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 13 November 1854, p. 6.
[4] Argus, 2 November 1854, p. 4.
[5] PROV 4066, p Unit 1, November no, 69.
[6] Ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, pp. 94-97, prints the document.
[7] ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 13 November 1854, p. 6.
[8] Sunter, Anne Beggs, ‘Henry Seekamp (1829?-1864)’, ADB, Supplementary Volume, pp. 355-356.
[9] Ballarat Times, 13 November 1854.




Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Arresting the murderers

Later on 23 October 1854, a large public meeting was held at 2.00 pm at Bakery Hill where the 10,000 to 15,000 diggers showed their support for McIntyre and Fletcher, established a Defence Fund for their trial and gave an ‘unqualified condemnation of the manner in which the laws are enforced at Ballarat’. [1] The Argus prophetically commented

In all this there is great danger. When large masses of chance-collected men assemble to listen to exciting harangues; when they know that they have many and good causes for complaint; and when some of the most urgent and most exasperating of these causes as enlarged upon, and represented in the most striking points of view; when the ready redress of a prompt appeal to physical force is placed in the scale with the tardy and uncertain remedies of petitions, remonstrances and resolutions, there is a great danger of collision…of the sacrifice of human life and the compromise of the great principles of liberty and progress. [2]

The meeting felt that had the laws been carried out impartially the burning of the Eureka Hotel would not have occurred and that the entire responsibility lay with the Camp officials. Its first resolution stated:

That the diggers look with feelings of alarm at the almost daily violation of the personal liberty of the subject, and hereby express their unqualified condemnation of the manner in which the laws are enforced at Ballarat. [3]

That evening, it was reported that a large body of men was making its way from Eureka to the Camp and soldiers and police were on alert all night. One consequence of this was that, by 27 October, Captain John W. Thomas, the Garrison Commander, had developed a detailed plan for the defence of the Camp. [4]

S. T. Gill, Site of Bentley’s Hotel, Ballarat

The problem of James Bentley remained. However, on 22 October, Police Commissioner MacMahon was given additional information by Thomas Mooney, Bentley’s barman that directly implicated Bentley, his wife and their employee Farrell in the murder of Scobie.[5] New depositions were collected, including an additional deposition given by mother and son Mary Ann and Bernard Welch. [6] Michael Welsh, a waiter at the Eureka hotel, also provided a deposition incriminating not only the Bentleys but also two of their staff, barman William Duncan and former Chief Constable Thomas Farrell, the hotel clerk. On 23 October, after he had studied the depositions forwarded by Johnston and the new evidence, they were arrested on the advice of Attorney-General Stawell. Evidence implicating a man named William Hance was also brought forward and he too was apprehended. Their trial was held in mid-November.

By late October, the goldfield had returned to normal and on 2 November, Rede sent 40 police back to Melbourne and Geelong though he took no action to reduce the number of troops. In an effort of quell unrest, on 30 October Hotham established a board of enquiry into the Scobie incident [7] and the actions of the Camp officials headed by Melbourne’s Police Magistrate, Evelyn Sturt assisted by William McCrae, head of the colony’s Medical Department, and C. P. Hackett, a Ballarat Police Magistrate. [8] The Riot Enquiry started sitting in Ballarat on 2 November. [9] However, underlying tensions had not been addressed and the events of the previous three weeks left the diggers with a heightened sense of injustice. The Ballarat Times caught this mood:

The corruption of every department connected with the government in Ballarat is become so notorious and so barefaced that public indignation is thoroughly aroused…Amongst other grievances under which the residents on the goldfields are suffering, there are three which ought at once to occupy the earnest attention of the government; and they are, first, the abolition of the present obnoxious miners’ license; second, the representation of the mining interests in the councils of the colony; and third, an unbiased and equitable dispensation of justice. These the miners must have and will have, one way or other, by fair means if possible, by foul if necessary, but have them they will… [10]

The authorities in Ballarat had badly mishandled each of the three incidents in October 1854. [11]

…he [William Mollison, a member of the Legislative Council on 31 October] did not believe that the outrage at Ballarat was caused by one error of judgement or one action of misconduct on the part of the magistrate or the other authorities, but that it had originated in a series of errors and a course of misconduct continued for some time… [12]

Both the murder of Scobie and the assault on Joannes Gregorius could easily have been resolved by the authorities: in the first case, if they had followed correct legal procedure and referred the issue to jury trial (as eventually occurred) and in the second if action had been taken against the inexperience Constable Lord, who was moved and against Assistant-Commissioner Johnston, who was not. Had this occurred promptly, it is possible that Bentley’s hotel would not have been fired. What, with justification, was seen as uncompromisingly biased attitude of the Government Camp simply aggravated the smouldering resentment of many diggers. Governor Hotham, though well aware of the deteriorating situation in Ballarat, did little to address the situation until he appointed the Riot Enquiry at the end of October other than reinforce the military and police presence in the community. In the next few months he consistently failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation and, when he did act, his actions tended to ratchet up the situation rather than calm it. Matters were further exacerbated by the worsening economic conditions in Ballarat as mining proved less prosperous on the Eureka Leads where no one had bottomed out for weeks. With both the Gravel Pits and Creswick Creek booming, some diggers moved elsewhere and the population on Eureka declined.

[1] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 25 October 1854, p. 4.
[2] ‘The Ballaarat Affair’, Argus, 26 October 1854, p. 4.
[3] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 25 October 1854, p. 4.
[4] A report, dated 27 October 1854, from Acting Chief Commissioner of Police Charles MacMahon for the information of Lieutenant Governor Hotham, discusses plans made with Captain John Thomas for the defence of the Government Camp: PROV 1189/P Unit 92, J54/12058.
[5] Mellor, Suzanne G., ‘Sir Charles MacMahon, (1824-1891)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 189-190.
[6] PROV 5527/P Unit 1, Item 2.
[7] ‘Legislative Council’, Argus, 1 November 1854, p. 4, details the decision to establish the commission while ‘Management of the Goldfields’, Argus, 1 November 1854, p. 4, for editorial comment. ‘Class Committees and Closed Doors’, Argus 16 November 1854, p. 4, was highly critical of Foster’s use of committees of enquiry because those involved tended to be linked to the issue being examined: ‘The gentlemen sent to Ballaarat to examine the charges brought against the magistrates and Camp officials there are, or have been, either magistrates or Camp officials themselves’.
[8] Gross, Alan, ‘Evelyn Pitfield Shirley Sturt (1816-1885)’, ADB, Vol. 6, pp. 215-216.
[9] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 10 November 1854, p. 4, ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 16 November 1854, p. 6.
[10] Ballarat Times, 28 October 1854.
[11] ‘Legislative Council: New Municipalities’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 2 November 1854, p. 5.
[12] ‘Legislative Council’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 2 November 1854, p. 4.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Chartists, Regions and Economies





Like its predecessor volume it provides a characteristically illuminating, succinct and thoroughly researched regional and local perspective on this complex but fascinating movement. It identifies clearly the salient features of each geographical area under review, comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of Chartism within and between each region, and displaying a clarity and subtlety of analysis which will make this volume and its predecessors so valuable to both students and teachers…  John Hargreaves

This book looks at Chartists from the grassroots. It abridges and builds on the two separate volumes—Chartism: Locations, Places and Spaces--dealing with Southern England and the Midlands and The North, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The focus is on how Chartism played out regionally and locally reinforcing the point that local priorities and political agendas did not always correspond with those put forward nationally and that, although the national leadership developed principles and policies and who passed through Chartist communities on their never-ending peregrinations, daily operational details were left to local leaders and organisations. For those communities, individuals such as Peter Bussey and William Carrier were as much the leaders of the Chartists to local men and women as Feargus O’Connor or Bronterre O’Brien. Is it better to see Chartism as a network of semi-autonomous political organisations over which national control was limited rather than a unified political movement? Should we see Chartism as a national debate over the exclusion of the working-classes not simply from the parliamentary franchise but from playing any role in determining the future direction of society, the economy and cultural aspirations?

Although there have been many local studies since Chartist Studies was published in 1959, the question of how the movement relates to the changing historiography of local history has rarely been raised. In part this was a consequence of the historiographical focus since the 1980s on its role as a national political movement but also reflects the difficulty of drawing these studies together. Although there are inevitably omissions, this book is an attempt to do so. In doing this, I have summarised often unpublished theses to bring their insights to a wider audience. One consequence is that I have written more on those areas, such as Worcestershire, which are largely ignored in the current literature than, for instance, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire or Essex that have. Although the focus in the chapters on England is on how Chartism developed its county profiles, county boundaries--osmotic not immutable--are an artificial conceit since ideologically and organisationally the movement transcended them as trans-county and regional delegate conferences show. The influence of London and Birmingham went far beyond their geographical, constitutional and political limits. There are six chapters considering the nature of Chartism in the English regions and a chapter each on Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the Isle of Man. Each chapter contains a detailed analysis of social and economic structures as well as a consideration of Chartism. The book ends with discussion of people, places, classes and spaces. It considers the question of ‘who were the Chartists?’ and the difficulties in identifying who they were and why they became Chartists and how far class played a part in this process. It also examines Chartism within its geographical context drawing on points made in the regional chapters. Finally, it looks at the whole question of radical spaces and how these spaces were created and contested.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Loyalty, disloyalty and British politics

The question of loyalty has been important over the last few days in Westminster and it seems tome to represent the growing dysfunction at the heart of both Conservative and Labour parties.  For the Conservatives it is the long-running schism between those who want to stay in Europe and those who do not while for Labour, it’s arguably the even longer battle between the left and the centre for control of the party.

Ken Livingstone, who is co-chairing Labour's review of Trident, has insisted Jeremy Corbyn was right to get rid of Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden, saying: ‘You can't have shadow team going on telly and slagging off Jeremy.’  Why ever not?  This is precisely what Jeremy did on many occasions during his decades on the backbenches.  The outcome of what must be the longest reshuffle in history has been two shadow ministers being sacked and Maria Eagle being moved from defence to culture and Hilary Benn coming to an ‘agreement’ that, although he may disagree in private, he will toe the party line in public, something that his ‘friends’ appear to deny.  Jeremy’s calls for greater discussion and democracy within the party—something he trumpeted during his election campaign and subsequently—is beginning to look somewhat tattered.  This may have been a credible stance when you are oppositionist in attitude but it is increasingly becoming obvious that it is not a credible position to take in opposition.  Of necessity, Jeremy needs to be seen as the leader of the opposition not leader of the oppositionists and in that respect sacking Shadow Cabinet ministers for ‘disloyalty’ is perfectly logical.  This does, however, raise questions about what ‘democracy’ means in the Labour Party today and it increasingly appears that it is Jeremy who is the fount of all democratic wisdom, a reflection of his oppositionist career.  What I find interesting in the attitude of what is increasingly seen by Labour as an anti-Corbyn ‘commentariat’ is that their focus is almost exclusively on what is happening in Westminster rather than in the country.  How far, for instance, have the Corbynistas been able to influence the direction and position of local branches of the Labour Party?  This is something that appears little in the media and yet surely it is at least as important, and arguably more important, than the shenanigans in Westminster.  For Ralph Miliband, this was the source of his ‘parliamentary socialism’.


This morning Chuka Umunna has described David Cameron’s decision to allow ministers to campaign for either side in the EU referendum once a deal is reached on the UK’s relationship with the EU as ‘fairly ludicrous’.  Yet this is precisely what Harold Wilson did with his divided Cabinet in 1975.  Without this relaxation of collective responsibility, there would almost certainly have been resignations so the Prime Minister’s decision removes one of many possible problems those in favour of staying in have removed.  It was a purely practical solution to a problem.