Thursday, 24 March 2016

Under the Southern Cross

On 28 November, the Argus commented in its leader:

Canada could not get a British statesman to listen to her grievances till she broke out in rebellion…We must warn the diggers that it is no slight affair upon which they are entering. [1]

The first sentence may have been a warning to the authorities but, if the second was to warn the diggers, it was almost an open invitation to rebel. Two days later, it was clear that neither the authorities nor the diggers had heeded the warnings and the mood in Ballarat hardened on both sides. After the license hunt on 30 November, several thousand diggers, many armed rushed to Bakery Hill. [2] None of their usual spokesmen were present to conduct the meeting. Humffray and George Black had already distanced themselves from the movement and it is unlikely that diggers would have listened to their calls for calm. The leaderless crowd was about to disperse when Peter Lalor took charge calling on the diggers to unite and fight to free themselves from tyranny. Critical in the shift from peaceful protest to direct action was belief in the right to bear arms in one’s own defence.

The concept of self-defence was an ambiguous Common Law right but legal opinion suggested that it did not extend to those who resisted the lawful authority of the state. However, Captain Wise’s untimely parading of his troops on 28 November and especially the clash at the Gravel Pits two days later confirmed the fear of many diggers that the authorities were preparing to use force against them. The miners would have been fully aware that the British government had used troops to deal with dissent and unrest in Britain and in the colonies. It does however seem that it was the prominence of the bayonet in both incidents that aggravated the situation: the bayonet was seen as ‘the iconic weapon of despotic coercion’. [3] Carboni was not alone in expressing his outrage at the threatened use of the weapon:

John Bull…was born for law, order and safe money making on land and sea…he hates the bayonet: I mean of course that he does not want to be bullied by the bayonet. [4]

Hundreds enrolled as volunteers and were organised into companies by Lalor while George Black’s brother, Alfred recorded the names of each division and its captain. The companies were made up of men from all nationalities on the diggings according to the weapons they brought with them. Charles Ross, for instance, took command of the division of men armed with rifles and muskets while Irishmen Michael Hanrahan and Patrick Curtain commanded a division armed with pikes, seen by some as an archetypically Irish weapon and the Prussian Edward Thonen took charge of another company of riflemen. [5] Lalor asked Carboni to tell those without firearms to make pikes. This was not, as some have argued, a reflection of the shortage of firearms among the rebels but recognition of the value of the pike as a weapon for defence. What was important about pikes was that they were easily made and could be used to some effect with little training. About 1,000 diggers with their leaders, Lalor, ‘Captain’ Ross, Timothy Hayes, Frederick Vern and Raffaelo Carboni then marched to the Eureka diggings with the Southern Cross flying before them. [6] This made tactical sense since Bakery Hill was an open, cleared space where diggers could be surrounded by troops from the nearby Camp. Eureka was less exposed.


Charles Doudiet, Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross, watercolour

At a meeting of the thirteen captains, Lalor was chosen as ‘commander-in-chief’ with a mandate to ‘resist force by force’.[7] After his election, the diggers began to erect a simple fortification about 200 metres from the remains of Bentley’s hotel. They enclosed about an acre of relatively flat ground with slabs of timber shovelling some earth round the slabs to strengthen them. Once the palisade had been completed, the men who had marched to Eureka, already reduced to 500, marched back to Bakery Hill, the symbolic centre of digger resistance. Lalor and his captains returned to Bakery Hill and as the sun was setting Captain Ross, sword in hand hoisted the Southern Cross. Holding his rifle in his left hand, Lalor mounted a stump nearby and ordered those not prepared to swear an oath to leave immediately, which many did. He then knelt at the foot of the flagpole and with his right hand raised towards the flag, swore in the men who remained:

We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.

As dusk fell, they took down the Southern Cross and marched back to Eureka. Although they did not know it, the diggers had won the first round of the Battle of Eureka. They had not thrown away their arms or deserted the Stockade, that frail symbol of resistance and returned to their diggings.[8]


[1] ‘Government by Artillery’, Argus, 28 November 1854.
[2] ‘Ballaarat: Serious Outbreak at Ballaarat’, Argus, 2 December 1854, p. 5.
[3] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, p. 19.
[4] Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, (Melbourne University Press), 2004, p. 6, cit, ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, p. 19.
[5] Thonen was German-born Jew from Elbertfeld, Prussia and in 1851 the twenty-three year old was in Britain earning a living as a teacher of languages. Thonen, just five foot tall, travelled about the diggings with a keg as a ‘lemonade seller’, probably a euphemism for sly grog of some kind.
[6] O’Grady, Desmond, Raffaelo! Raffaelo!: A Biography of Raffaelo Carboni, (Hale and Iremonger), 1985, is an good study of this enigmatic figure. In addition to his The Eureka Stockade, it was known that he had published another book about his experiences in Australia in 1853-1855 ­ Gilburna, this book, first published in 1872 had been thought to have been lost until a copy was discovered in Rome in 1990. It throws new light on the forgotten people in the Eureka story, ­ the indigenous inhabitants of the land. Carboni, Raffaelo, Gilburna, translated and annotated by Tony Pagliaro, (Jim Crow Press), 1993.
[7] The thirteen captains included: Lalor, Frederick Vern, Carboni, Edward Thonen, a Prussian who sold lemonade, John Manning, Timothy Hayes, Patrick Curtain who led the pikemen and George Black. It is probable that Captain James McGill and Thomas Kennedy were also there: ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, pp. 129-130.
[8] Ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, pp. 136-137.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Another ‘omnishambles’!!

It’s easy to see why George Osborne included the changes in disability benefits in his budget last week.  By adding it to a ‘money bill’, he removed the possibility of the House of Lords, should it have got that far, of repeating its treatment of proposed tax credit cuts.  It’s also easy to see why, following the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, why they have been abandoned.  This and the debate over Brexit probably now means that George will not succeed David in Number 10…for a significant number of MPs and an even greater number of Conservative Party members and for the broader public, George has now become a toxic brand.  With his reputation as a master political tactician—something I must admit I’ve always believed has been over-stated--now in ruins, he appears to have forgotten one of the most important rules in politics…you can push colleagues so far but eventually they’ll say right I’ve had enough.  For IDS, the change to Personal Independence Payments was that tipping point...the ‘quiet man’ bites back.

At the heart of the resignation is a growing tension within the Conservative Party between those who espouse a liberal Conservative position grounded in market enterprise—what might be called the ‘powerhouse Conservatives’—and compassionate One Nation Conservatives, many of whom were elected in 2010 or 2015, for whom a fair society is at the heart of their thinking.  You might say that George represents the first while David ‘hug a hoodie’ Cameron is more inclined towards the latter.  You could also argue that the reason why the Conservatives have done so well since 2010 is because of the creative tension between the two, unlike the tendentious Brown-Blair relationship.  Cameron had urged the Chancellor to avoid any major controversy in the Budget so as to avoid fuelling discontent among Tory MPs ahead of the EU referendum.  George listened over changing when pensions were taxed but then went for disability benefits presumably without recognising that it was equally controversial. And it could all have been avoided.  I don’t see why there couldn’t have been an uncontroversial mini-budget to keep thinks ticking over until November or until after the referendum.  Could this be a further example of political hubris…a belief in their invincibility?  Well, yes it is.  If you see a potential obstacle in front of you, you don’t march straight into it in the misguided belief that it will simply evaporate. Once the referendum is over George needs to be moved…Foreign Office I think…so that a new pair of eyes can look at the treasury brief if only because he’s been in the job for six years and, as he’s said on several occasions, there’s no Plan B. 

Do we spend too much on welfare and should this be reduced?  Across the political divide there is general agreement that welfare is disproportionately high compared to other areas of government spending and that reductions can be made.  The question is how should this be done and IDS’s resignation has again highlighted the view that the government’s approach is often deeply unfair as it juxtaposes cuts for the majority with tax cuts for the wealthy and that, in IDS’s words, the government is in ‘danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it, and that, I think, is unfair’'.’  IDS also criticised the ‘arbitrary’ decision to lower the welfare cap after the general election and expressed his ‘deep concern’ at a ‘very narrow attack on working-age benefits’ while also protecting pensioner benefits.  


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

We all knew it was going to be fear, fear, fear

The Brexit debate has been going on for about four weeks and we have 99 days until the referendum on 23 June.  At this stage—and there’s a long way to go—the outcome appears to be finely balanced but the standard of debate was really been lamentably poor.  In fact, I would suggest, it has yet to have any real impact on the people who will eventually make the decision…you and I.  The debate, such as it is, appears to be based round the principle that when one side says that something will occur, the other side says no it won’t.  So when the Brexits said that our security would be strengthened and that we would be safe out of the EU, those in favour of staying simply said that’s nonsense.  The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, has said the UK will be taking a ‘big gamble’ with its security if it votes to leave the European Union.  However, former defence secretary Liam Fox, a prominent Out campaigner, has condemned the ‘project fear’ tactics of those who suggest leaving the EU could weaken the UK's security and its international standing.

The other strand in the debate is the fear factor and it’s been the dominant theme for the remain campaign. They are not without support from a range of different organisations that are all prepared to stand up and describe Brexit as the constitutional equivalent to the apocalypse.  For instance, If Britain votes to leave the European Union it could have a negative impact on the Nato alliance, a senior US military commander has warned. Lt-Gen Ben Hodges, head of the US Army in Europe, said he was ‘worried’ the EU could unravel just when it needed to stand up to Russia.  He acknowledged the vote was a matter for the British people, but said he was concerned about the outcome. Out campaigners say a leave vote would not affect the UK's position in Nato.  It’s the equivalent of: ‘Yes I know it’s your decision but you’ve been warned…’ Both sides need to become more ‘human’ and stop bellowing at each other about statistics. 


It seems to me that everyone from the US President to the Chinese Premier has an opinion about whether the UK should leave the EU—and that generally means they are in favour of Britain remaining in.  The problem is that their statements do little to enhance the debate; it simply smacks of interference.  It may be interesting to know what Obama thinks about the EU but he doesn’t have a vote and you can well imagine the reaction of Americans to British politicians telling them how they should vote.  The problem at present is that the debate has not really got out of the Westminster bubble…yes, politicians are beginning to canvass on the issue but they have not really begun to engage with the voters.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Moderate reformers lose control

On Wednesday 29 November, a poster printed at the Ballarat Times office appeared around the diggings and the township, advertising another ‘Monster Meeting’ at Bakery Hill at 2.00 pm. [1] It advised diggers to ‘bring your licenses, they may be wanted’. At Bakery Hill, flying for the first time, on an eighty foot pole was the flag of the Southern Cross. A rough platform had been set up and Timothy Hayes, the chairman was joined on the platform by the Reform League Committee, Fathers Smyth and Downing, the delegates Humffray, Kennedy and Black and some reporters.

The main purpose of the meeting was to hear the response of Hotham to the League’s petition ‘demanding’ the release of McIntyre, Fletcher and Westerby. Humffray was initially well received by the crowd especially when he said that the Governor was determined to put an end to their grievances. George Black informed the crowd of 10,000 Ballarat residents that the Governor was in favour of the people but being ‘surrounded by injudicious advisers he was entirely impotent in state matters’. He told the diggers that as Hotham had rejected their use of the word ‘demand’ and it was proposed to return with a petition that was more moderately phrased. Humffray, despite his disappointment at Hotham’s response maintained his call for peaceful resistance and was supported by Fathers Smyth and Downing. Despite Evans’ belief that that ‘better portion of the meeting were I believe well disposed towards him’, Humffray lost his authority when he spoke against the burning of further mining licenses at the meeting. He and other moderates had formulated the Charter with its demands and warnings, but they had not weighed up the consequences of the government refusing to negotiate. [2]


The Reform League committee was deeply divided between those who continued to believe in peaceful agitation and those who favoured more militant action and attempts at conciliation were howled down by the increasingly fractious crowd. This was reflected in the report from the Argus correspondent:

I endeavoured to write a report of the proceedings but…it was impossible. The scene of excitement and confusion on the platform precluded the idea of a competent and proper report...

Raffaelo Carboni, among others, addressed the crowd and told them how he had fled from ‘the hated Austrian rule’ and called upon all ‘irrespective of nationality, religion, or colour to salute the Southern Cross as the refuge of all the oppressed from all countries of the earth’. The turning point came when Peter Lalor, prominent for the first time, put a motion to the meeting that the Ballarat Reform League should meet at the Adelphi Theatre at 2.00 pm on Sunday 3 December. [3] He also proposed that a new central committee be elected, composed of a representative for each 50 members of the League. It seems the group that had run the Ballarat Reform League would be replaced by a radical committee more in line with the mood among diggers and they roared their assent. Vern called for the burning of licenses and with this, the meeting ended. Whatever the implications of Vern’s resolution, most diggers were not prepared to go further than passive resistance. No shots had been fired by diggers or the Camp and few words had been spoken in anger. However, Rede was not alone in seeing this meeting as a public challenge to the authorities.

Hotham and Rede were now communicating in cipher and Hotham was concerned that the diggers had a strategic advantage, as the diggings were a singularly unsuitable terrain for offensive military action. Decisive action was therefore required. On Thursday 30 November, a hot and blustery day, Rede used an already planned license hunt to test the feelings of the people. Johnston led the hunt on the Gravel Pits diggings, accompanied by a troop of mounted and foot police, with drawn swords and fixed bayonets. [4] His detachment was pelted with rocks as they entered the diggings. Rede read the Riot Act under a hail of stones and a detachment of the 10th and 12th formed near the bridge. Several arrests were made but when Benjamin Ewins, George Goddard, Duncan McIntyre, William Bryan, Donald Campbell and John Chapman were finally brought to trial in mid-January 1855 for breaches of the peace, they were acquitted. [5] Some accounts reported that the soldiers fired a volley over the heads of the crowd; others stated that random shots came from both sides. It was clear that any further attempt to enforce the licenses would be met with violence and troops and police withdrew to the Government Camp by noon.

Of the diggers, some went to the Eureka, some to the Red Hill, where they hoisted their flag—‘The Southern Cross’--while the Commissioners and commanding officers were holding a consultation on the new road, evidently nonplussed as to what were the intentions of the diggers, and what they were next to do. At length the military and police formed themselves into divisions on the Bakery Hill, throwing out their ‘light bobs’ as sharpshooters behind the heaps surrounding the holes. The position being thus taken up, Mr. Johnson asked what he was to do if, in the collecting of the licenses and the apprehension of the unlicensed, violence were used. The answer from the officer in command of the police was, ‘If a man raises his hand to strike, or throw a stone, shoot him on the spot.’ These were the orders given to the police…All this took up some time, of course, and the grand review having taken place on Bakery Hill, the Government force, for some reason which, though both an ear and eye witness, I cannot understand, retired towards the Camp, but not in peace, for hundreds of diggers had equipped themselves with revolvers and with weapons of all kinds, both offensive and defensive. Scattered shots were heard about this time, and one man having ‘scaled’ his piece was pursued by a party of the police, who, acting under orders, fired on him amongst the tents, but luckily missed, but eventually captured him.[6]


Rede had maintained the law but the license hunt only further alienated the diggers. What had been a largely peaceful protest movement now inexorably plunged into armed insurrection. Evans was not alone in thinking:

Among the many false steps our Authorities have taken recently none I think have reached in reckless foolhardiness the one they took this morning…A little forbearance on the part of the authorities and I believe all would have been well, but this morning’s disastrous policy has raised feelings of bitter animosity in the breasts of many who a little while ago were eager that the difficulties should be settled by moral means, and all now look forward with apprehension to the consequences. [7]

Who provoked whom between 27 and 30 November? The Argus reported that at the Bakery Hill meeting on 29 November:

The Resident Commissioner rode up to Mr Humffray...and said, ‘See now the consequences of your agitation’. To which Humffray replied, ‘No! But see the consequences of impolitic coercion’. I wish that our local authorities had but a little common sense. Was it right, was it politic to go on a license-hunting raid in such terms and under such exciting circumstances? [8]

Blame is normally placed at the door of the authorities. Hotham commented in his narrative despatch 162:

All cause for doubt as to their real intention from this moment disappeared; by the most energetic measures must order be restored, and property maintained; a riot was rapidly growing into a revolution, and the professional agitator giving place to the man of physical force. [9]

Rede was uncompromising in his insistence that law and order be maintained in Ballarat and has been regarded as the man responsible for the carnage when the Eureka Stockade was attacked. It was the authorities that reinforced the military presence at Ballarat, who rejected the League’s advances on 27 November and who initiated the license hunt three days later. This neglects the role of Captain Charles Pasley, Colonial Engineer to Victoria and a nominated member of the Executive Council from October and, after he arrived in Ballarat in late November, the unofficial government man on the spot. [10] He was quickly admitted to Rede’s council of war ensuring that Rede’s zeal for law and order was not diminished while not directly involving the government in Melbourne. In his daily letters to Hotham, sent through formal channels to John Foster the Colonial Secretary, he consistently made it clear that the burgeoning democratic movement needed to be snuffed out. In his correspondence Rede, by contrast had emphasised the need to restore law and order not protecting the status quo from democratic encroachments. It was only after Pasley arrived that Rede’s attitude hardened and he began to speak in terms that mirrored Pasley. [11]

However, the diggers’ deputation had given Hotham little room for manoeuvre and he felt, with some justification that he had already made important concessions. The crucial development in these four days was the failure of the moderates within the League’s leadership and the drift towards those with a more militant and republican approach. Yet many miners remained ambivalent in their attitude to the cause of the Eureka rebels. Faced, not simply by a threat to public order, but by full-scale rebellion as the diggers armed and established their Stockade, no longer prepared to negotiate. Fearing that the riot was growing rapidly into a revolution, Hotham and the authorities had run out of options short of military action.

[1] Ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, pp. 118-120, details the meeting.
[2] ‘Domestic Intelligence’, Argus, 1 December 1854, p. 5.
[3] Turner, Ian, ‘Peter Lalor (1827-1889)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 50-54, provides a concise biography. Berry, A., From tent to parliament: The life of Peter Lalor and his coadjutors: history of the Eureka Stockade, (Berry, Anderson & Co), 1934; Turnbull, Clive, Eureka: The Story of Peter Lalor, (The Hawthorn Press), 1946, and Blake, Les, Peter Lalor: The Man From Eureka, (Neptune Press), 1979, are more detailed.
[4] ‘Ballaarat: Serious Outbreak at Ballaarat’, Argus, 2 December 1854, p. 5, gives a detailed account of this digger-hunt.
[5] Depositions against these individuals are in PROV 5527/P Unit 1, Item 10 (Ewins), Item 11 (Goddard), Item 12 (Bryan), Item13 (Chapman), Item 14 (McIntyre), and Item 15 (Campbell).
[6] ‘Ballaarat: Serious Outbreak at Ballaarat’, Argus, 2 December 1854, p. 5, provides a detailed account of this digger-hunt.
[7] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 30 November 1854, pp. 121-126.
[8] Argus, 2 December 1854, p. 5.
[9] Hotham to Sir George Grey, 20 December 1854, PROV 1085/P0, Duplicate Despatches from the Governor to the Secretary of State, Unit 8, Duplicate Despatch no. 162.
[10] Pasley hardly figures in accounts of events in Ballarat but Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, (Sydney Australian Military History Publications), 2009, pp. 98-100, considers his role to be fundamental to subsequent events. See also, McNicoll, Ronald, ‘Pasley, Charles (1824-1890), ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 409-412.
[11] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, p. 100. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Breaking the Habit: A Life of History

Just Published
Historians, it has been said, are rather like a good bottle of wine…they mature with age. Being seen as a rather crusty claret may not be a bad thing and I’ve now reached the point in my life when I feel it right to air—as with the claret—my own reflections on the nature of History in an increasingly challenging environment. I do not claim that my own life has been anything other than ordinary but when you get to a certain age I suppose you start to look back on things. What follows is an otiose attempt to make sense of my own life by intermingling autobiography with materials on History, teaching and learning initially written often at speed as part of on-going debates on education and history but now revised in the more cloistered solitude of my study.


Breaking the Habit: A Life of History
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, (1 March 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1530295238
  • ISBN-13: 978-1530295234