Saturday, 28 May 2016

A false dawn

Rumours were rife in Melbourne. The goldfield was said to be in rebel hands and people became uncomfortably aware that the diggers could form an army tens of thousands strong and be on their way to pillage their defenceless town. A citizens’ rifle brigade was formed and Hotham was applauded when he announced that special constables would be sworn in to meet the emergency. In Ballarat, some more radical diggers met at the Star Hotel where Alfred Black drew up a ‘Declaration of Independence’ but they were a small minority and Lalor, who favoured force only in defence, played no part in it. Vern did and Lalor felt sufficiently insecure in his leadership to offer his resignation on Friday 1 December in order to maintain unity within the movement. However, he was dissuaded from doing so largely because Vern and others recognised that, without him the movement would fall apart. [1] Vern had promised to raise 500 armed German diggers and sought the position of second-in-command but contented himself with enlarging the Stockade. [2] Carboni thought this absurd as there was no possibility of defending the original space let alone an extended one. [3] Vern may have promised the best hope for military leadership but largely from accounts written by Carboni who detested him, he appears vague and contradictory in his military organisation. [4] He did, however, approach the task of forming a rebel army with some energy but he is best remembered for fleeing the subsequent battle though not, as some suggested, at its outset but when a large number of the defenders fled ten minutes into the battle.
 
Few diggers slept in the Stockade on Friday night returning early on Saturday morning, 2 December. Drilling recommenced at 8.00 am and the blacksmith inside the stockade continued to make pikes for the diggers who had no firearms. Drilling stopped around midday when Father Smyth arrived to tend to the needs of the Irish Catholics. He had permission from Lalor to address the Catholics and pointed out to them their poor defences and their lack of experience in the face of well-armed troops and police, with more reinforcements on the way. He pleaded for them to stop before blood was spilled, and to attend Mass the following morning, but was largely unsuccessful. No license hunt occurred in the morning and by midday most diggers agreed that nothing would happen until Monday at the earliest and Lalor believed that this would take the form of further license hunts not a direct attack on their camp. By mid-afternoon, 1,500 men were drilling in and around the Stockade. Captain Thomas suggested that the rebels were ‘forcing people to join their ranks’. [5]
 
 
 

Around 4.00 pm, 200 Americans, the Independent Californian Rangers under James McGill, arrived in the Stockade.[6] Their arrival bolstered men’s spirits as McGill had some military knowledge and was promptly appointed second-in-command to Lalor. There is considerable ambiguity over the extent of McGill’s military experience. [7] But he put whatever military training he had to work and set up a sentry system to warn the rebels of a British attack. Even so McGill and two-thirds of his Californians left before midnight on the pretext that they were going to intercept further reinforcements from Melbourne. McGill’s wife later claimed that a representative of the American consul, a friend of Hotham, had ordered McGill to get his men out of the Stockade. [8] Vern, also without providing any evidence to support his assertion, suggested that McGill accepted a bribe of £800 to absent himself from the Stockade. This left the Stockade seriously under-manned and Rede’s spies observed these actions. In the evening, most men had drifted home to their families or visited friends outside the boundary. Lalor had retired to the stores tent within the Stockade for much needed sleep by midnight and there were only about 120 diggers within the Stockade with a hundred or so firearms between them.
 
Although it appears that Lalor did not anticipate an imminent military assault, this was not the position in the Camp where tension was rising. Captain Thomas later stated that shots were fired over the heads of sentries and that the rebels in the ‘intrenched camp… [had] the avowed intention of intercepting the force under the Major-General’s command en route from Melbourne.’ [9] Rede knew that unless he used his available men, he could lose the opportunity to end the rebellion quickly. Soldiers and mounted police had poured in from around the state; 106 men from the 40th Regiment and 39 mounted troopers arrived from Geelong. Reinforcements were also sent from Castlemaine, as well as directly from Melbourne. Rede was informed by his spies that the Californian Rangers had left the Stockade depleting its defenders. There was a hint of things to come when on the day before the attack Rede had written to Hotham:
 
I am convinced that the future welfare of the Colony and the peace and prosperity of all the Gold Fields depends upon the crushing of this movement in such a manner that it may act as a warning.
 
Now, he concluded, was the ideal time to attack and destroy the Stockade.


[1] Ibid, Molony, John, Eureka, pp. 146-147, draws attention to the ‘alleged’ nature of this document but says nothing more.
[2] Vern, Frederick, ‘Col. Vern’s Narrative of the Ballarat Insurrection, Part I’, Melbourne Monthly Magazine, November 1855, pp. 5-14, Part II, does not appear to have been published.
[3] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, pp. 80-81.
[4] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, p. 84.
[5] Thomas to Major Adjutant-General, 3 December 1854, PROV, 1085/P Duplicate 162, Enclosure no. 7.
[6] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, pp. 84-86, 88.
[7] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 49-51.
[8] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 3 December 1854, pp. 134-135, gives an alternative explanation suggesting that one government spy ‘[possibly McGill] had decoyed a large body of men from the Stockade last night on some pretence or other, leaving only about 150 in it and they imperfectly armed…’
[9] Thomas to Major Adjutant-General, 3 December 1854, PROV, 1085/P Duplicate 162, Enclosure no. 7.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

More negotiations: Friday 1 December

For Charles Evans and many others, the night of 30 November was spent in sleepless dread of an impending confrontation:
 
…a fearful thunder storm the most violent I have witnessed since I have been on the diggings, broke over our heads. The lightning was truly awful, but scarcely more awful than the objects its light revealed. The diggings & for a moment the eye would rest on groups of armed men talking in low earnest tone & then all was darkness. We are now waiting in darkness and uncertainty for some fearful crisis, every hour is expected to usher in a scene of blood and calamity. [1]
 
By Friday 1 December, the Camp was virtually under siege and the surrounding country in a state of growing tension. Initially, at least, communications were maintained between the protagonists. Despite their aggressive mood, Lalor was still prepared to talk with the authorities. Once the diggers arrived back at Eureka after taking the oath under the Southern Cross, Lalor met with the elected captains who decided to send one last deputation to Rede. Although Carboni suggested that this meeting took place on 30 November, it is now generally agreed that it took place early the following day. [2] Carboni, George Black and Father Smyth met Rede outside the Camp because Rede was concerned that the meeting might be a ruse to gain intelligence of the layout of the Camp and its fortifications if the diggers were planning an attack. Lalor proposed that the diggers would lay down their arms and return to work if the prisoners were released and no more license hunts were carried out until the findings of the Royal Commission were released. Father Smyth believed it was up to Rede to make concessions but Rede was unbending stating that he would maintain the Queen’s authority and not negotiate with men who were using the license as ‘a mere cloak to cover a democratic revolution’. Carboni and George Black and Father Smyth returned to the Stockade to report the failure of the meeting. Nonetheless, unknown to the leaders at Eureka, Smyth returned to the Camp a few hours later in a final attempt to reach some sort of compromise but again Rede refused.
 
The authorities were being kept informed of the situation on the diggings by ‘spies’ placed amongst the diggers. Constable Henry Goodenough, an agent provocateur had urged diggers to attack the Camp and informed Rede about a proposed 4.00 am attack on 1 December. Only a few diggers assembled at Bakery Hill, but soon dispersed when they heard that some of the Camp forces had turned out to confront them. Yet, the suspicious movements of diggers kept the Camp in a state of constant alert and troops were sent out again at 11.00 am to clear the streets and hotels at the back of the Camp and two diggers were arrested, one of whom was armed. Rede believed that the Camp was in danger and urged Hotham to send more reinforcements, including artillery. As a result, Major-General Sir Robert Nickle left Melbourne for Ballarat on Friday 1 December with a force of 800 men and 4 artillery pieces.
 
When the Council at Eureka, now the governing body for the rebels, heard that the military had mobilised, an attack on the Stockade was expected. As a result, further fortifications were constructed and positions manned but within two hours things had settled down. Carboni made the point that the diggers’ lack of weapons was clear evidence that no revolution was intended and that they had ‘taken up arms solely in self-defence’. [3] Although the making of weapons as primitive as pikes suggests that there was a shortage of arms at Eureka, contrary to Carboni’s assertions the defenders lacked neither firearms nor ammunition. [4] Ballarat had become a more settled community and this meant there was less need for diggers to carry weapons but this did not mean they were without revolvers, rifles and especially shotguns. What the rebels lacked were weapons for close quarter fighting; few had bayonets and this meant that once a musket had been fired at advancing troops, unless it could be quickly reloaded, its use was limited to being a club. The use made of pikes, far from being a consequence of shortages of other weapons, proved effective against mounted troops especially when used in a coordinated way and could also be used against soldiers with bayonets to prevent them closing with the rebels. The problem with pikes is that, unless supported by rebels with firearms they could not keep firearm-equipped soldiers at bay for long, as proved the case during the assault. The contrast generally made between military organisation of the Camp and with what is seen as the amateurish nature of preparations in the Stockade needs to be reassessed.
 
There was a problem with criminality as Carboni highlighted:
 
…a similar gang, four strong, had entered the store of D. O’Conner, on the Golden Point...but the vagabonds did not care so much for the ammunition for their guns, as for the stuff for their guts, what tempted them most was fine good Yorkshire hams, and coffee to wash it down. In short they ransacked the whole store[5]
 
The diggings were in turmoil as roaming bands of diggers raided stores commandeering guns, ammunition and food supplies and horses for the use of the ‘diggers under arms’, shops closed and mining ceased. Evans commented:
 
Bodies of armed men visited the stores demanding arms -I was in the Rifle Gallery when two men appointed by the main body came for their rifles & guns. It was useless to resist so they gave up at once what they had in the gallery -The rest they had previously sent to the township. Soon afterwards 7 or 8 others armed with swords guns & revolvers came in & made a second demand, and would not believe that they had been given up already -[6]
 
Lalor made some attempt to combat lawlessness and picquets were sent out to prevent the seizures being made a cover for robbery.
 
Early on 1 December, Black and Kennedy rode the nine miles to Creswick’s Creek to persuade its miners to sever ties with the English but their endeavours were rejected by the majority as a call to take up arms against the Victorian Government. The Argus reported that ‘great intimidation’ was used by those under arms and that ‘every one of them that did not come out and fight would be marked and would sure to gain nothing in the end.’ [7] Kennedy assured the crowd that Ballarat was ready to revolt and weapons, food and accommodation were available. The diggers at Eureka needed to know whether they had support on the other fields but what they did not need was a contingent of unarmed and exhausted diggers. Although several hundred miners left Creswick in heavy rain, by 4.30 pm, only 150 men arrived from Creswick making a colourful spectacle as a band played the ‘Marseillaise’ but feeding, arming and housing them put an enormous strain on the limited resources of the Stockaders. Most were soon disillusioned by what they saw at the Stockade and returned home. This was, however, the extent of physical support from outside Ballarat. The following day, 600 people at Bendigo heard Henry Holyoake report on the situation in Ballarat but even though the diggers did not support the Ballarat militants and reaffirmed their policy of peaceful constitutional change, they agreed not to pay the license fee and to wear red ribbons as a sign of support. On 2 December, the Ballarat correspondent of the Argus wrote:
 
We are standing here on the brink of a great event. What the next forty eight hours will bring forth, I feel, will form a page in the future history of Victoria…The tranquillity of this day has been absolutely agonising. I am now writing amidst the reports and flashes of a thousand stands of arms. Everyone is excited and confused. I wish the crisis were over; the suspense is fearful.[8]


[1] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 30 November 1854, pp. 125-126.
[2] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, pp. 73-76.
[3] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, p. 80.
[4] Ibid, Blake, Gregory, To Pierce The Tyrant’s Heart: A Military History of The Battle for The Eureka Stockade 3 December 1854, pp. 26-29, examines the evidence for the miners being better armed than some of the contemporary statements suggested.
[5] Ibid, Carboni, Raffaelo, The Eureka Stockade, pp. 93-94.
[6] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 30 November 1854, pp. 125-126.
[7] ‘Further Particulars of the Ballaarat Affray’, Argus, 5 December 1854, pp. 4-5.
[8] ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 4 December 1854, p. 5, written before the attack on the Stockade.