Friday, 28 February 2014

Wakefield Court Rolls

Volume 16 of the Wakefield Court Rolls series

Dr John Hargreaves has produced an excellent edition of the Wakefield Court Roll from 19 October 1812 to 15 October 1813.  Volume 16 of the Wakefield Court Rolls series can be obtained from the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Claremont, 23 Clarendon Road, Leeds,  LS2 9NZ,   for £20 plus £2.75 postage and packing. Cheques should be made payable to Yorkshire Archaeological Society or you can buy the book on the website by using the link provided.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Reviewing the nineteenth century

I am most grateful to Stephen Roberts for writing a review of these two books.  They are printed on his excellent  Chartism & The Chartists website:

Richard Brown, Coping with Change: British Society 1780-1914 (Authoring History, 2013); and Before Chartism: Exclusion and Resistance (Authoring History, 2014).

Those who study, write and teach about Chartism will be familiar with the name of Richard Brown. His Chartism (1998) is one of a clutch of short histories of the movement; but, alongside that by Edward Royle, is the book that would top anyone's recommendations of where to begin when starting out on a study of the Chartists. Brown's contribution to our understanding of Chartism would be useful enough if he had written only that one book ... but he hasn't. Brown is in fact a prodigious writer. He does not, as a rule, delve deeply into primary sources in his writing. What Brown does is immerse himself in the relevant secondary sources; and 'immerse' is the correct verb because the range of Brown's reading takes in almost everything written on a subject and is truly astonishing.

Coping with Change is a door-stopper of a book. At 746 pages, it leaves no gaps - there are chapters devoted to industry, agriculture, transport, public health, education, crime, leisure, religion and so on. All that Brown has to say is thoroughly footnoted, ensuring the reader does not have to check library catalogues for further reading. Brown writes both authoritatively and clearly. With a detailed index, this is an easy book to use. I can pay it no greater tribute than by saying that I shall keep my copy within easy reach of my desk when I am writing.

Before Chartism offers a comprehensive examination of the radical movements and protests that came before the late 1830s. Chartism cannot be understood without knowing what immediately preceded it - the popular unrest that followed the end of the French wars in 1815, the great 'betrayal' of the 1832 Reform Act, the hated Poor Law of 1834, the agitation over the press in 1830s London and so on. I always thought that the introductory chapters of J.T. Ward's Chartism (1973) were useful, if not particularly sympathetic to the leaders of the people. But that book is long out-of-print and the reader seeking up-to-date and reflective writing on these themes needs to consult a range of different books. That is no longer the case. Brown provides, in a well-researched, sympathetic and readable volume, the stories of the campaigns that fed into Chartism. It is another valuable volume from the Brown writing factory.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Clunes 1873: A problematic press

It is clear that most historical accounts of the Clunes riot are peppered with errors of fact. Whether it was the purpose of the strike, the number of Chinese involved, the nature of the clash or how many coaches there were, historians have tended to provide contradictory information. The colonial media gives important information on events in Clunes but some reports were clearly less reliable than others.[1] In Melbourne, the Argus, the Age and the Australasian, the sources most often cited by historians covered the issue but so too did the Daily Telegraph, the Herald, the Weekly Times and the Leader. There were also pieces in regional newspapers, including the Ballarat Evening Standard, the Castlemaine Leader, the Geelong Advertiser, the Mount Alexander Mail and the Bendigo Advertiser.

How did they obtain news? Within Victoria the rival accounts of three regional newspapers were telegraphed out and reprinted across the colony. For example, the Clunes Guardian’s report[2] appeared in the Castlemaine Representative, the Ballarat Star’s in the Mount Alexander Mail, and the Ballarat Courier’s in the Geelong Advertiser. The sources that colonial newspapers used were often unattributed and reports were commonly presented with the by-line ‘From Our Correspondent’. This was the case with article carried in both the Age and the Argus on which Manning Clark, Andrew Markus, Eric Rolls and other historians rely. Other papers across Victoria took secondary material telegraphed from Melbourne and many compiled articles later in the week from a jumble of different sources that probably arrived by post. For example, the Pleasant Creek News at Ararat took its news direct from the Ballarat Courier and the Clunes Guardian while most rural papers such as the Ovens & Murray Advertiser at distant Beechworth relied on second- or even third-hand information. As a result, the ‘reports’ deteriorated in quality and what occurred in Clunes developed from an ‘incident’ into a ‘ferocious uprising’.

In addition to the problem of embroidering news of what happened at Clunes, newspapers frequently took a particular editorial stance. Most rural newspapers were sympathetic to the miners apart from the conservative Ballarat Evening Post that sided with management painting the striking miners in the most anarchistic colours

Employers have a perfect right to purchase their labor in the cheapest market’.[3]

Although other regional newspapers were calling what had taken place a ‘Miners’ Demonstration’, the ‘Clunes Disturbance’ or the ‘Clunes Incident’, the same issue of the Evening Post carried an unattributed report from the Clunes Guardian under the inflammatory heading ‘Anti-Chinese Riot’, the first newspaper in the colonies to do so.

The Ballarat Star is an important source and not only because it interviewed two eyewitnesses from the coach party for its initial report of 10 December. While the Evening Post sided with the Lothair Company and the Courier with the miners, the Star was the only Ballarat newspaper that attempted a non-partisan line. Its editors were aware that news may be distorted and in addition to a further analysis of the riot, on Friday 12 December printed without comment entire paragraphs reporting on Clunes extracted from other newspapers in Melbourne and central Victoria. This made very clear to readers that embellishments were appearing in the media beyond Ballarat. The following morning the Star went further and, in a daring editorial, took issue with the Melbourne Age that shifted its position each day, siding with the company one morning then the townspeople the next. The Star suggested that the Age’s coverage of the incident was unreliable and contradictory backed up with quotations to support its case, accused the paper of having a political agenda and editorialising instead of reporting. However, the Star’s criticisms apparently had little effect and were subsequently largely overlooked by historians.

In Melbourne, with only minor changes, on 10 December, both the Age[4] and the Argus[5] printed the same unattributed piece from the Clunes Guardian. The next day, both papers printed editorials admonishing the miners. The Argus also carried a second report from the Clunes Guardian, while the Age ran the report from the Ballarat Courier with full attribution. The Argus dropped the issue on Friday 12 December, although the Age ran a further editorial retracting the previous day’s position and now pleading the case for the miners and also published the second report from the Clunes Guardian, also with an attribution.

The Herald and the Daily Telegraph attempted a broad coverage. An evening broadsheet, the Herald broke the news to Melburnians late on 9 December with a paragraph written from brief telegrams from the Ballarat Courier and the Creswick Advertiser. The following day, it ran the morning’s report without attribution from the Ballarat Courier and, under the caption ‘Riots at Clunes: Attack on Police by Crowds of Miners and Their Wives’ printed the attributed Ballarat Star’s report. On Thursday 11 December, the Herald attacked other newspapers for criticising the miners suggesting that if they were going to support the Lothair mine’s actions then those papers should themselves use cheap Asian labour. The Herald also filled a column on the opposite page with attributed paragraphs taken from the Bendigo Advertiser, the Geelong Advertiser and the Ballarat Courier, followed by a general comment on cheap foreign labour.[6] On 10 December, the Daily Telegraph ran attributed reports from the Clunes Guardian and the Ballarat Courier, as well as material condensed from the Creswick Advertiser. This was followed the next day by a full report from the Ballarat Star and a further long piece from the Clunes Guardian on the Friday. The Daily Telegraph also suggested in its editorials that the Clunes incident was inspired by a similar miners’ strike and picket line that had crippled Stawell about sixty miles to the west a few months before. The only difference was the ethnicity of the blacklegs: at Stawell they had been European, not Chinese.

On the weekend after the event, Melbourne’s three Saturday weeklies, the Leader, the Weekly Times and the Australasian, published their analyses of events. The Leader, while condemning the hostilities, insisted that it was a labour problem that had run out of hand. The paper suggested, referring to Sunday work

Their protest no man will say was an unreasonable one...The Chinese laborer has no Sunday, no home, no family and he is willing to sell his labor cheap.[7]

Quoting a late despatch from the Clunes Guardian, it insisted that the erosion of working conditions was the crux of the issue. To support this position, the Leader outlined the dispute at the Lothair mine summarising the proposed changes to wages and rosters and pointing to concerns over the expansion of working hours into Sunday; the troubles were about defending the Sabbath, not repelling the Chinese. The Leader also referred to recent actions at Stawell, where blacklegs had also been brought in from Ballarat to break a picket line. On that occasion the authorities had turned a blind eye when strike-breakers were attacked and expelled from the town.

It must not be forgotten that a few weeks ago acts of wanton violence were committed in another district under the very noses of the police...They that sow the storm must expect to reap the whirlwind, and the power that would stand unmoved while a miner was being assaulted, as at Stawell, might be expected to nod approvingly...The Clunes miners remembering this little episode may have felt that they enjoyed immunity, in the indifference of the authorities, from interference...

Hinting at vested interests, the paper asked why the government had sent police into Clunes when it had done nothing at Stawell. Like the Australasian, the Leader did not believe that an ethnic riot had taken place. It was a repeat of Stawell, a confrontation over working conditions and to argue otherwise was to misread the situation. The coverage in the influential Weekly Times with its wide circulation in rural Victoria consisted of a long disapproving editorial dismissing the issues that had prompted the action

...we neither know nor care exactly which of these two views [that is, the company’s and the miners’] is the correct one...The question simply resolves itself into one of law and order versus violence and mob rule.’[8]

The paper failed to summarise the events leading up to or during the incident. Its view was that ‘Cornish Communism’ and ‘American Rowdyism’ had infected the townspeople, who had erected barricades and engaged in a ‘fierce fight’ with the authorities. Its approach was polemical not factual.

The Australasian printed the unattributed report of the incident from the Clunes Guardian already used mid-week by the Age, the Argus and the Daily Telegraph. It also ran a half-column editorial that condemned the hostilities and, selectively quoting from various reports, mocked the suggestion now circulating that the fracas was motivated by fears of ‘moral pollution’ should the Chinese settle in Clunes. Its editors dismissed this as a flimsy excuse devised by apologists to conceal the real motives. For the Australasian what had happened at Clunes was not a race riot at all, but evidence of a slide into lawless bullying and mob rule in rural Victoria.

Nevertheless, the wild ‘anti-Chinese riot’ interpretation was taking a hold on the broader community and far outside Victoria it increasingly became the only explanation that mattered. The scale of the confrontation and its motives were submerged as Australian newspapers printed colourful descriptions of a tumultuous uprising by a brutish mob. Most had the miners and their wives assaulting the Chinese, although according to the Sydney Mail there had been a ‘collision’ between miners and the police so great that the latter were ‘compelled to retreat’. Some journals had staff artists run up illustrations purporting to show the event. The Australian Sketcher printed one a fortnight later, a small innocuous scene showing a crowd of respectably attired matrons tossing stones at a policeman on top of a distant coach. The most extreme image appeared three weeks after the event in the Illustrated Australian News that ran a large engraving of the supposed Clunes barricade with a single coach surrounded by troopers on foot who are being beaten and clubbed by a dark seething mob.

This media alarm highlighted a broad response across the country that ran counter to accepted historical interpretations. Weaving through many historians’ references to the Clunes incident is an implied testimony of the shameless prejudice of colonial Australia. It is not difficult to find evidence of the colonial media’s aversion for ‘the Celestials’. Yet newspapers did not support taking action against them and far from rejoicing at the suggestion that there had been an anti-Chinese uprising, the national media were condemnatory. For example, the staff of the Brisbane Courier Mail followed its brief telegraphed reports with a long editorial praising Chinese for their industry and sobriety and censuring those who would take up arms against them

This may be a temporary victory for the Clunes miners over the Lothario Company [sic] and the Chinese: but, unquestionably, it is a disgrace to the colony, and a defeat to the law, that may lead to very serious consequences.[9]

In paper after paper, editors and journalists wrote of events at Clunes with a mixture of repugnance and alarm.

[1] Cryle, Denis, (ed.), Disreputable Profession: Journalists and Journalism in Colonial Australia, (Central Queensland University Press), 1997, is a valuable collection of papers on the general issue of colonial newspapers. See also, Webby, Elizabeth, ‘Australia’, in Vann, J. Don and VanArsdel, Rosemary T., Periodicals of Queen Victoria’s Empire: An Exploration, (Mansell), 1996, pp. 19-60.

[2] No known copies of the Clunes Guardian for late 1873 survive but its two long despatches, one on the morning’s disturbance and another on a town meeting late in the day were widely reprinted in the colonial press.

[3] Evening Post, 10 December 1873.

[4] ‘Serious Disturbance at Clunes’, Age, 10 December 1873.

[5] ‘Chinese Labour at Clunes’, Argus, 10 December 1873.

[6] ‘Contemporary Opinion--The Clunes Riots’, Herald, 11 December 1873.

[7] Leader, 13 December 1873.

[8] ‘Mob Law’, Weekly Times, 13 December 1873.

[9] Brisbane Courier Mail, 13 December 1873, p. 4.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Fish out of water!

If I refuse to give you what you want, am I making my position clear or am I bullying you?  This is not a simple question to answer as it depends largely on the tone of my response.  Making my position clear and explaining why I hold to that decision may seem a highly reasonable response on my part.  I’m not simply saying no, I’m giving you reasons why I said no.  But is this bullying?  Here the critical issue is one of power and control.  If I have the power and you don’t then I can enforce my decision whether you like it or not…now that could be construed as bullying.  I raise this question largely because the debate between England and Scotland now appears to have degenerated into English politicians saying things that are unpalatable to the ‘Yes campaign’ and Scottish nationalists saying that this is bullying.  Now that might by good PR for the ‘Yes campaign’…nobody likes a bully…but it fails to address what are fundamental issues for the potential future of an independent Scotland that the nationalists. 

Therein lies the problem with the referendum.  Many of the critical questions on, for instance, economy, membership of the EU and so on, will perhaps inevitably not  be answered until after the referendum takes place.  Take the question of whether Scotland and England would enter into a currency union based on the pound.  For Mr Salmond this appears to be taken as read, a logical solution to Scotland’s future currency. But when George Osborne and his officials made it clear that this is a non-starter, this was yet another example of England bullying Scotland and anyway once independence is agreed the separation negotiations will resolve the issue in favour of currency union anyway.  For Mr Salmon, there is no Plan B in the lengthy and, in places, speculative and nebulous Scottish White Paper.  He simply asserts that Scotland keeping the pound will be beneficial for both countries. 

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talks during an interview with Reuters in his office at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule

Now let’s admit that he might be right on this issue—doubtful given the uncharacteristic unanimity among the three major Westminster parties—but the issue of continued membership of the EU appears, if Mr Barroso’s statement that this would be ‘extremely difficult’, to be close to impossible.  It would require agreement of all 27 members and we all know that Spain is highly wary of the impact of a vote for Scottish independence on the separatist campaign in Catalonia. Barroso has previously said that any newly independent state would have to re-apply to join the EU.  His comments are at odds with Scotland's blueprint for independence, published last year, which says that it hoped to agree a ‘smooth transition’ to membership of the EU as an independent state.   The Scottish government paper said they believed transition could be agreed without interrupting its EU membership in time for a potential independence declaration in March 2016.  It is now clear that this is no longer the case.  For the leader of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, former British Chancellor Alistair Darling, the independence campaign was beginning to unravel: ‘Alex Salmond is a man without a plan on currency and Europe. The wheels are falling off the independence wagon.’   This may be premature and the current polling figures of 29 per cent in favour of independence, 40 per cent opposed and 29 per cent undecided means that the race for independence is still wide open.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Clunes incident, 1873

During the 1840s and 1850s, the discovery of major gold reserves in northern California, Victoria and later British Columbia and New Zealand transformed the European settler societies of the Pacific Rim. [1] The full extent of the Chinese role in the emergent central Victorian goldfields society has only recently been recognised. Although best known for their role in the gold mining industry, they were involved in other activities on the goldfields working as herbalists, merchants and restaurateurs.[2] As a cultural group they stood out because most retained their identity and customs and the ‘Chinese question’ began to vie with the other major issue of the day, the ‘unlocking’ of Crown Lands. European miners were angered by their increasing presence in the fields and in 1854, an irritated group of European and American miners met in Bendigo and declared that a ‘general and unanimous rising should take place for the purpose of driving the Chinese off the goldfield’. Local constables acted quickly to prevent the uprising and warned the miners against any further vigilante action. The event was only the beginning of greater anti-Chinese tensions.

In December 1873, a major disturbance against Chinese miners occurred in the Victorian gold mining town of Clunes, some twenty miles north of Ballarat. [3] The scale of the incident and the level of violence were only slightly less than occurred in the riots at Buckland River in 1857 and Lambing Flat in 1860 and 1861. [4] Despite this, the events at Clunes have not been accorded the same significance and those historians who have written about it offer little detail on what transpired there. Generally the incident is mentioned in passing or used to moralise about colonial Australia’s hostility towards Asian peoples. Much of what has been written is inconsistent and unreliable and examining contemporary colonial newspapers casts doubt on the traditional ethnic explanation.

Chap 5 Clunes

Historiographical confusion

This is evident in the most widely disseminated account of the Clunes incident: a paragraph in Manning Clark’s A History of Australia

When news reached Clunes in Victoria on the morning of 9 December 1873 that numbers of Chinese were about to move onto their field, the miners took instant action. The bellman was sent round the town to alert the diggers of the impending arrival of ‘the leprous curse’. Work was immediately suspended in all the principal mines, and on what remained of the alluvial flats. Public meetings were held at which miners and diggers unanimously resolved to drive the unclean yellow men off the fields. Axe- and pick-handles and waddies of all descriptions were distributed to the men waiting for the arrival of the Chinese. Women turned out in hundreds to incite their menfolk against the Chinese. That morning one thousand men, accompanied by troops of women and children and inflamed by the fire-bells ringing out the alarm as well as by stirring music from the brass bands, erected barricades at the junction of the Ballarat and Clunes Roads to stop the Chinese coaches. Ploughs, drays, timber, stones and bricks were used. As soon as the Chinese coaches came within distance, a hail of stones and bricks fell upon the occupants. The police tried gallantly to protect the Chinese and restore order, but all in vain, as the miners, ably assisted by their better halves, who shouted and cursed and swore and cast stones with the best of the men, compelled the Chinese to retrace their steps back to Ballarat, to the cheers of the victors in this battle for Clunes. Before returning to work the miners again declared their determination to oppose the introduction of Chinese labour in the mines at Clunes. The Australians might not have been capable of creating a Paris Commune, but they were capable of defending the slogan ‘No Chinamen’.[5]

Clark provided three sources in the footnote for this colourful passage but references to the Sydney Illustrated News seven years after the event and a note in the Bulletin thirteen years later were clearly second-hand accounts. However, he also cited a newspaper report from an unidentified ‘Clunes correspondent’ printed in the Age, the important Melbourne paper, the day after the disturbance. The Age’s account stated:

The bellman was sent round the town to apprise the inhabitants, and work was immediately suspended in all the principal mines. The miners, to the number of over five hundred, assembled, and headed by a band of music, paraded the streets. Public meetings were held, and it was resolved to resist to the utmost the introduction of the Chinese...As soon as the coaches came within distance a perfect storm of stones and bricks fell upon the occupants, and a charge made to assault the Chinese. The police, though few in number, fought well, and for a short time maintained their position, but the overpowering and determined onslaught of the miners, assisted by their better halves, compelled them to retrace their steps back to Ballarat. The battle, for nothing else can it be designated was fought with determined energy and bravery...[6]

Clark relied heavily on this passage adding detail to give dramatic vividness to the description and in the process taking liberties, especially when describing the behaviour of the townspeople. The newspaper stated that their wives ‘assisted’ the miners but for Clark the women ‘shouted and cursed and swore and cast stones...’ He also included descriptions of the Chinese as ‘unclean yellow men’ and as ‘the leprous curse’ highlighting the bigotry of the rioters implying that they were recorded remarks. However, they did not occur in the newspaper report or any other record of the event. Clark was not simply guilty of selective quotation but of putting words into the mouths of the participants.[7]

Historians examining colonial race relations have also used this 1873 account as a main source on the Clunes incident. Andrew Markus is less emotive than Clark and he refrains from embellishing the facts but his account is distilled from this report.[8] It was used by Eric Rolls though he added information from another colonial newspaper, the Melbourne weekly Australasian. However, Rolls provides no source for the assertion that the miners at the barricade ‘tried to haul the Chinese from inside [the coaches]’, or for the claim that the police sergeant escorting the coaches was ‘a kindly man who had helped Chinese lepers cast out of Ballarat’. [9] Markus and Rolls, as well as Charles Price, all mentioned that the Chinese were being brought to Clunes to break a fourteen-week miners’ strike. [10] The Age’s account stated that this was the cause of the riot though Clark omitted this crucial point from his melodramatic telling of the story leading readers to assume that the miners’ action was openly racist.

This alternative explanation that the townspeople were angered by strike-breaking places the incident at Clunes in a different light. In the decade before Clark and Markus penned their descriptions, prominent Labour historians such as J.T. Sutcliffe[11], Edgar Ross[12] and Joe Harris[13] had argued that far from being chiefly motivated by racial intolerance, the miners were protecting their livelihoods from dilution by cheap labour. Ross neatly avoided mentioning either the ethnic aspects or the violence of the Clunes incident, insisting that it marked a turning in the labour movement

A miniature ‘Eureka Stockade’ in December, 1873, contributed to the militant spirit of the period. This occurred during a strike of Clunes miners for the right to have Saturday afternoons off. The Clunes Miners’ Association under the presidency of the Mayor of Clunes, W. Blanchard, erected barricades of timber and stone to bar the way to five cartloads of scabs recruited by the Lothian [sic] Mining Company and being escorted by police. About 1000 unionists and a contingent of irate women assembled, and the scabs and the police were forced to retreat to Ballarat. The Clunes action is generally regarded as providing a stimulus for the formation in 1874 of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association with a constitution to cover all miners in Australia and New Zealand.[14]

However, despite agreeing that a strike was under way, Ross, Sutcliffe, Harris and other labour historians differ on the level of hostilities and what the miners’ grievances were: did the miners want reduced hours on weekends, were they pressing for an eight-hour day or was the dispute about calls for wage increases.  The strike-breaking explanation had also been advanced twice by Geoffrey Blainey. The first occasion was in his history of mining, where, following a passage outlining how mining companies shunned employing Chinese except when they could be used for some devious purpose, he wrote:

In December 1873, for example, Peter Lalor, the hero of Eureka, and his fellow directors of Clunes companies tried to break a strike by employing Chinese in their deep quartz mines, but the coachloads of Chinese they recruited were halted by an angry crowd on the outskirts of Clunes.[15]

For Blainey, the initial charge of racism should be directed at the Lothair Company that treated Asian employees as readily exploitable, a view apparently shared by Price in The Great White Walls are Built. Blainey said more on the townspeople’s motivations when he revisited the subject twenty years later in his history of Victoria

In 1873 at Clunes, the Lothair gold mine, of which the Eureka hero Peter Lalor was a director, resolved to break a miners’ strike by recruiting Chinese miners and bringing them from Creswick in horse-drawn coaches. On reaching the edge of town the Chinese were driven back. Fear that the Chinese would lower the high standard of living for the average Victorian was the strongest of all fears directed against them.[16]

The inference was that existing employment conditions were being threatened with reductions leading miners to strike. However, Blainey failed in either text to cite a specific source on the Clunes incident though he consulted Withers’ The History of Ballarat, an important source of information on the district. W.B. Withers was a reporter and sub-editor for the Ballarat Star at the time of the Clunes riot giving him a unique slant on the event. Yet apart from Blainey, historians have overlooked Withers and the neglect of this text and especially its revealing aside on the political figures involved is surprising. Withers wrote in his account of the incident at Clunes

There were a few Chinese digging gold in Ballarat as early as 1852, but there was no rising of the ‘yellow agony’ in the district till the year 1873, when a dispute at Clunes led to a disturbance of the peace of 9th December. There had been a strike of miners employed in the Lothair mine, as the directors refused to give a Saturday afternoon holiday shift as was generally the custom … The directors of the mine, including Mr Francis (then Premier), and Mr Lalor, the whilom hero of freedom, &c., at the Eureka Stockade, decided to counter-plot against the strikers by employing Chinese labor, of which Creswick and Ballarat offered an ample supply...the more emotional of the commentators in the Press championed their doings and some were silly enough to compared the riot to the stand made at the Eureka Stockade. This was not wonderful if not very wise, for the business was a medley of conflicting legal and moral rights. [17]

Keith Windschuttle identifies Timothy Coghlan’s pioneering work, Labour and Industry in Australia as the foundation for most left-wing versions of the incident.[18] This is evident Coghlan’s text where wrote that the Chinese were being used by employers to prevent controversial claims presented by their workforce.

In December 1873 there was a strike of goldminers at the Lothair mine at Clunes. The men had asked for shorter hours and increased wages, the employers refused their request and determined to obtain Chinese from Ballarat to fill the strikers’ places. This infuriated the miners, who summoned a meeting of the Miners’ Association, and resolved to prevent the Chinese from working. The Government had sent an escort to protect the Chinese, but this did not prevent a riot, as soon as the strike-breakers prepared to set out, and they were unable to get to their destination. The Government made no attempt to prosecute the miners, and at the end of January the strike ended by the concession demanded being granted to the miners.[19]

The problem is that Coghlan’s assertion that the mining company was not trying to force a lowering in wages and conditions, as Blainey maintained, but to prevent them increasing is not supported by any references. It appears to be derived, at least in part, from the colourful memoirs of the miners’ union organiser William Spence published a decade earlier that described the Clunes riot in some detail.[20]

The excitement and cheering was great, men, women and children joining in the resistance. Nearby was a heap of road metal, and arming herself with a few stones, a sturdy North of Ireland woman, without shoes or stockings, mounted the barricade as the coaches drew up. As she did so she called out to the other women, saying: ‘Come on, you cousin Jinnies; bring me the stones and I will fire them.’ The sergeant in charge of the police presented his carbine at the woman and ordered her to desist. Her answer was to bare her breast and say to him: ‘Shoot away, and be damned to ye; better be shot than starved to death.’ With the words she threw a stone, cutting the cheek of the officer. After that stones flew rapidly; the horses began to plunge, and the Chinese to yell; whilst the terrified director (by name of Solomon) in charge crawled into the boot of the coach for safety.[21]

Lively though this certainly is, Spence’s description of the Clunes hostilities is questionable. Penned more than thirty years later, it appears to be a much-embroidered fiction. There is no record of an official of the Lothair Gold Mining Company called Solomon at the barricade and the three representatives who were there (Pascoe, Samuels and Bryant) did not retire into the boot of a coach. The police sergeant in charge gashed his temple when he fell to the ground, not his cheek when a stone struck him and the lowly Irish agitator who supposedly instigated the violence appears to be a fabrication arising from an unidentified stout woman at the front who tried to pelt the driver of the lead coach with stones and missed him each time. Spence was employed at Bendigo at the time of the riot he implied he witnessed and did not even get the year correct. It was 1873, not 1876 as he stated.

[1] General discussion can be found in ‘The Chinese’, in ibid, Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins, pp. 197-204; Curthoys, Ann, ‘Men of All Nations, except Chinamen’: Europeans and Chinese on the Goldfields of New South Wales’, in ibid, McCalman, Iain, Cook, Alexander, and Reeves, Andrew, (eds.), Gold: forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia, pp. 100-123, and Lake, Marilyn and Reynolds, Henry, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality, (Cambridge University Press), 2008, pp. 15-47. The experience of Chinese immigrants in Victoria during the 1850s and after can be explored in Daley, C., ‘The Chinese in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Magazine, Vol. 14, (1931-1932), pp. 23-35; Serle, pp. 320-335; Price. C., The Great White Walls are Built: Restrictive Immigration to North America and Australasia 1836-1888, (Australian National University Press), 1974; Markus, A., Fear and Hatred: Purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, (Hale & Iremonger), 1979; Gittins, J., The Diggers from China: The Story of the Chinese on the Goldfields, (Quartet Books), 1981; and Cronin, K., Colonial Casualties: Chinese in Early Australia, (Melbourne University Press), 1982. McLaren, Ian F., The Chinese in Victoria: Official Reports and Documents, (Red Rooster Press), 1985, is an invaluable study including critical sources from the 1850s.

[2] Lovejoy, Valerie, ‘Depending upon Diligence: Chinese at work in Bendigo 1861-1881’, Journal of Historical and European Studies, Vol. 1, (2007), pp. 23-37 provide a valuable case study.

[3] The most recent historiographical discussion can be found in Heathcote, Christopher, ‘Clunes 1873: The Uprising that Wasn’t’, Quadrant, Vol. LIII, (12), (2008). See also, Baker, David, ‘Barricades and batons: A historical perspective of the policing of major industrial disorder in Australia’, in ibid, Enders, Mike and Dupont, Benoît, (eds.), Policing the lucky country, pp. 199-222, especially pp. 202-204, Small, Jerome, ‘Reconsidering White Australia: Class and anti-Chinese racism in the 1873 Clunes riot’, BA (Hons) thesis, La Trobe University, 1997 and Griffiths, P.G. ‘The making of White Australia: Ruling class agendas, 1876-1888’, PhD thesis, Australian National University, 2006, pp. 97-136, 349-458.

[4] Reeves, Keir and Wong Hoy, Kevin, ‘Beyond a European protest: reappraising Chinese agency on the Victorian goldfields’, in Mayne, Alan, (ed.), Eureka: Reappraising an Australian Legend, (Network), 2006, pp. 153-174, is a crucial revisionist contribution to discussions of the Chinese in Victoria in the 1850s. There is a growing literature on Lambing Flat: Carrington, D. L., ‘Riots at Lambing Flat 1860-1861’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 46, (1960), pp. 223-243; Walker, R. B., ‘Another Look at the Lambing Flat Riots 1860-1861’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 56, (1970), pp. 193-205; Selth, P., ‘The Burrangong (Lambing Flat) Riots 1860-61: A Closer Look’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 60, (1974), pp. 48-69; Connolly, C. N., ‘Miners’ Rights: Explaining the ‘Lambing Flat’ Riots of 1860-61’, in Curthoys, A., and Markus, A., (eds.), Who are Our Enemies? Racism and the Australian Working class, (Neutral Bay), 1978, pp. 35-47, and Messner, Andrew, ‘Popular Constitutionalism and Chinese Protest on the Victoria Goldfields’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 2, (2), (2000), pp. 63-78.

[5] Clark, C.M.H., A History of Australia, Vol. 4, The earth abideth for ever 1851-1888, (Melbourne University Press), 1978, p. 350.

[6] Age, 10 December 1873. See also Argus, 10 December 1873, p. 5.

[7] Clark would probably argue that this was justifiable poetic licence.

[8] Ibid, Markus, A., Fear and Hatred: Purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, pp. 76-77.

[9] Rolls, Eric, Sojourners: The Epic Story of China’s Centuries-Old Relationship with Australia, (University of Queensland Press), 1992, pp. 181-182.

[10] Price, C.P., The Great White Walls are Built: Restrictive Immigration in America and Australasia, (Australian National University Press), 1974.

[11] Sutcliffe, J.T., A History of Trade Unionism in Australia, (Macmillan), 1967, p. 53.

[12] Ross, Edgar, A History of the Miner’s Federation of Australia, (Australasian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation), 1970, p. 49.

[13] Harris, Joe, The Bitter Fight: A Pictorial History of the Australian Labor Movement, (University of Queensland Press), 1970.

[14] Ibid, Ross, Edgar, A History of the Miner’s Federation of Australia, p. 49.

[15] Ibid, Blainey, G., The Rush that Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining, p. 89.

[16] Blainey, G., Our Side of the Country, (Methuen Hayes), 1984, p. 50. This remained unchanged in A History of Victoria, (Cambridge University Press), 2006, p. 50.

[17] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, pp. 214-215.

[18] Windschuttle, Keith, The White Australia Policy, (Macleay Press), 2004. In her review of the work in The Age, 18 December 2004, Marilyn Lake said that it was ‘a deeply political work - combative in tone, often contemptuous of other people’s work, passionate and polemical in argument. But politically driven history and the urge to cast historical subjects as heroes or villains can pose a barrier to understanding a complex and ambiguous past.’

[19] Coghlan, T., Labour and industry in Australia from the first settlement in 1788 to the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901, 4 Vols. (Oxford University Press), 1918, Vol. 3, p. 1473.

[20] Spence, W.G., Australia’s Awakening: Thirty Years in the Life of an Australian Agitator, (The Worker Trustees), 1909, pp. 48-50

[21] Ibid, Spence, W.G., Australia’s Awakening: Thirty Years in the Life of an Australian Agitator, p. 49.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Forty years on…

As Christopher Daniels reminded me in his recent article on historical sources, it’s forty years since we wrote out first article on history education.  Not only does that means that we’re both growing disgracefully older but that, in the interim, little has changed in the ways that examination boards approach the evaluation of sources.  Particularly, and this is the core of Chris’ paper, visual sources are still largely ignored when assessing students.  In fact, perusing some old examination papers and comparing them with today’s equivalent, the types of sources used has barely changed at all.  What visual material there is is generally in black-and-white rather than colour, the norm in say Geography papers.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Dr J. A. Langford (1823-1903): A Self-Taught Working Man and the Sale of American Degrees in Victorian Britain

In the next few weeks, I will be publishing under my imprint Authoring History  a short pamphlet on John Alfred Langford (1823-1903) written by Stephen Roberts.  This is my first venture into publishing another author’s work and it is a pleasure to take what is well-researched and written and original material into print. 


Langford was a man much like Thomas Cooper--whom he knew well.  He was an autodidact and the author of much poetry.  He also wrote a lot of local history, notably the compendiums A Century of Birmingham Life and Modern Birmingham (1868-73)  that are still regularly consulted  by local historians.  Unlike Cooper, Langford did not get involved in Chartism but worked closely with middle-class radicals like George Dawson in promoting Birmingham's famous ‘Civic Gospel’.  Most interestingly, he acquired a doctorate from a little-known American college--a little digging has discovered that this particular institution was selling degrees in mid-Victorian Britain--more than 50 men acquired them according to his research and there was much controversy in the newspapers.

Worker and protest movements 1870-1900

Before the 1880s, radical movements tended to be short-lived and focus on specific issues. From this decade on, however, as waged labour became the only means for the majority of people to make a living, industrial unions expanded and socialist ideas began to play a part in the labour movement.[1] The part police would take in the on-going conflicts between employers and workers was foreshadowed in the 1870s as workers began to organise themselves into industrial unions. In 1873, police openly intervened in a miners’ strike at Clunes. After consulting with the directors of the mine, the Chief Commissioner, in an attempt to defeat the fourteen week strike, provided an armed police escort for a convoy of strike-breakers brought into the town. The formerly peaceful dispute erupted into a riot when strikers and police clashed. In the same decade police in rural areas used the provisions of the Masters and Servants Act to break industrial action taken by shearers against squatters; in one case police arrested fifteen striking shearers.

Some commentators argue that there is little evidence of repressive policing of worker movements in Australia. This conclusion fails to take adequate account of the way worker organisations and socialist and radical ideas have been policed. Because of the inequality of bargaining power between capitalists and workers, workers need to join together to take effective action to challenge the system under which power is distributed. Worker or socialist organisations are also necessary to build working class consciousness. Changes in working class consciousness are necessary if any substantial and effective challenges are to be mounted against the ruling class.

If one looks at the policing of worker action in the context of the policing of worker organisations and radical opinion, history provides ample evidence of repressive policing. Police harassment of socialists and militant workers became widespread in the 1880s as class organisation, action, and militancy increased amongst workers. Victoria’s first socialist organisation, the Australian Socialist League (ASL), was established in early 1889. Police forbade property owners to allow the group to use their premises to hold public meetings; arrested or threatened to arrest members selling the group’s newspaper; constantly interrupted and threatened to arrest socialist speakers addressing gatherings. A leading ASL spokesperson maintained:

‘Socialism aims at the abolition of the present system of state and society by which a small class, the Bourgeoisie, rules a large class, the workers, the proletariat; rules it, and exploits it, keeps it deliberately in ignorance, and oppresses it mercilessly. They are backed up by canon, bayonet, and the policeman’s baton, and are determined to keep up this system of theirs’.

The 1890s saw the onset of mass unemployment in Australia, leaving many families and communities in a state of near-starvation. Melbourne was worst hit by the depression; by 1893 nearly one third of all workers were unemployed. The extent of unemployment, combined with the involvement of radicals as organisers, meant that protests against unemployment were more politicised than earlier demonstrations. Demonstrations often attracted thousands of people and speeches were made about socialism, anarchy and other ‘social reforms’. The police played an integral part in containing protest and undermining the political organisations of the unemployed. Police used their batons liberally at demonstrations: ‘defenceless men were beaten in a “brutal fashion” and women and children were pushed and abused’. Police also used a range of laws to persecute the politically active unemployed. One of Melbourne’s best known unemployed activists was arrested and gaoled as a vagrant; others were arrested for ‘seditious language’, disturbing the peace, and holding processions without the permission of the Mayor.

The fear of imprisonment was enough to make other activists flee the state. The criminalisation of dissent thus effectively deprived the unemployed movement of its leadership. The use of vagrancy laws during the depression to gaol the unemployed, ill, injured, infirm and women struggling to support children, reinforced the idea that poverty was the result of personal failure, rather than structural inequality and provides an early example of how policing feeds into the production of ideas favourable to the maintenance of capitalism.

[1] Love, P., ‘From convicts to communists’ in ibid, Burgmann, V. and Lee, J., (eds.), Staining the Wattle: A People’s History of Australia since 1788, pp. 152 and 154. See also, Markey, Ray, ‘Australia’, in Van der Linden, Marcel and Rojahn, Jürgen, (eds.), Formation of Labour Movements, 1870-1914: An International Perspective, (Brill), 1990, pp. 579-608.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Land, policing and Ned Kelly

By the 1840s, squatters in Victoria had a firm hold of the land, occupying most of the useable land and all of the best land. Squatters simply took possession of unoccupied crown land beyond the boundaries of location. Initially they paid nothing for the land. Later they were required to obtain a government licence, but as the cost was nominal they paid virtually nothing for use of the land.
Most of the squatters seem to have come from the British gentry or tenant-farmer class. There were no openings for the poor because grazing required substantial sums of capital. Land Acts were passed in the 1860s after the gold rush, partly to compensate diggers for their loss of economic independence as mining became the almost exclusive preserve of companies. These acts allowed would-be farmers access to small parcels of land called selections. However, the same acts also protected the tenure of squatters and, in substance and administration, discriminated against selectors. Squatters managed to evade the provisions of the Land Acts, especially legislation before 1865 and keep their stock runs intact by virtue of various manipulations, like ‘dummying’ and ‘peacocking’. The former involved individuals selecting blocks, ostensibly for themselves but really for squatters. The latter saw squatters selecting areas for themselves such as creeks frontages, and fertile river flats that made the rest of the run useless for farming.[1]
By the end of the 1860s, selection was a major social and geographical phenomenon. For complex reasons, including inadequate legislation and manipulation by the squatters, selection was not an economic success. The poverty of the selectors compared with the wealth of the squatters and the squatters’ highly visible attempts to frustrate selection, resulted inevitably in a divided rural community. The selectors resented the squatters and periodically expressed that resentment by burning fences, obstructing railway lines and illegally releasing impounded stock. Squatters, for their part, viewed the selectors as socially inferior and lawless and made no distinction between theft and the selector customs of slaughtering stock for ‘personal use’ and horse ‘borrowing’.
Police in rural areas, like those previously deployed on the goldfields, were paramilitary in style, and drew heavily on the Royal Irish Constabulary as a model. This was partly because Irish-born police dominated the force and approximately half were former members of the RIC. In addition, Chief Commissioners up until the beginning of the 1880s were either military men or proponents of the Irish model. The geography of the rural communities also favoured the mounted patrols used by the Irish Police over the foot patrols used by England’s civil police. Police in Victoria’s rural areas were likewise heavily armed and alienated from the selector communities they policed. They generally came from outside the area, knew nothing of local habits and made little effort to find out. Selectors suffered police corruption, incompetence, brutality and intimidation. The Victoria police, like the RIC, were held in low esteem by the majority of the rural community. On the other hand, squatters found a natural ally in the police. The higher ranks of the force moved in the same social circles as the squatters; the lower ranks, often posted to rural areas at the squatters’ request, like the squatters, made no distinction between killing stock for ‘personal use’, ‘borrowing’ horses, and theft. A strong alliance formed between the squatters and police and by the 1870s selectors, not unjustly, viewed the police as ‘squatter’s men’.[2]
Tensions in the rural community came to a head with the Kelly Outbreak, and many aspects of policing were brought to public light. Because the Kelly saga was subject to so much contemporary commentary and subsequently documented by a Royal Commission and a host of ‘Kelly scholars’, it can be seen as a microcosm of the role and reputation of police in rural Victoria during the 1870s. The police station at Greta, the setting for the Kelly outbreak, was established in 1869 at the request of local squatters, who wanted selector-duffers/stock thieves dealt with. Hall, the police officer placed in charge of the station, set up a system of spies, and used threats and intimidation to control the district’s ‘criminal classes’. An incentive to corruption was supplied by the local Stock Protection Association, comprised of squatters that supplied rewards for the arrest of suspected stock thieves. Hall vigorously pursued the rewards and arrests were often indiscriminate. Selectors could complain about police but the complaints were never heard or dismissed.
Ned Kelly
In 1871, Hall arrested the then sixteen year old Ned Kelly, a member of a selector family over use of a horse. In the process he tried, more than once, to shoot Kelly, who was unarmed, and administered a severe pistol whipping when his gun failed. The arrest triggered resentment throughout the selector community in the district. Kelly was subsequently sentenced to three years hard labour on perjured police evidence. Hall’s successor, Flood, later threatened to give Kelly ‘worse than Hall did’. The whole Kelly family, including women and children, were harassed by local police. These incidents provided the background for the events at Stringybark Creek in 1878, where three police officers were shot and killed by Kelly and his gang. Four police set out on Kelly’s trail after an altercation at the Kelly family home in which a police officer was slightly injured. Although Kelly was later found guilty of murder by a Supreme Court jury there is evidence supporting Kelly’s claim that the police were shot in self-defence. The police hunt for the gang over the following twenty months and its climax at the ‘siege of Glenrowan’, demonstrate both the militaristic style of policing in the area and the extent of police alienation from the community.
Local people, generally thought Kelly was ‘a man made outlaw by persecution and injustice’ and refused to cooperate with police in the hunt. One local newspaper reported that three out of every four of the male population in the area were on Kelly’s side.[3] Chief Commissioner Standish shared this view, lamenting:
The Gang were secure of the good will of a great proportion of the inhabitants of these regions…Indeed the outlaws are considered heroes by a large proportion of the population of the North Eastern district who…look upon the police as their natural enemies.
Unable to count on local people’s help, police resorted to spies and arresting ‘Kelly sympathisers’ during the hunt. In addition, search parties were heavily armed. Police finally caught up with Kelly and his gang at Glenrowan. During a siege lasting several hours police blazed away at an inn containing the gang and dozens of unarmed civilians. Police bullets fatally wounded three civilians, including an old man and a child, and injured others, one a teenage boy shot in the back after he tried to escape the potential death trap. One police officer, fully aware of who he was shooting at, repeatedly shot at a woman carrying a baby as she ran out of the building seeking safety, a bullet lightly grazing the baby’s head. While the police showed little regard for the civilians’ safety, the gang tried unsuccessfully to negotiate safe passage for those trapped inside. After the siege one journalist wrote that: ‘The want of judgement displayed by them [the police] was criminal. The indiscriminate firing into a house filled with women and children was a most disgraceful act’. Nevertheless the government paid the police involved in Kelly’s capture substantial rewards.
The legendary armour
The seminal place Ned Kelly and other bushrangers have in Australian history suggests that they symbolised more than individual criminality. The Kelly Outbreak was linked to a broader struggle over land and challenges to squatter privilege. Indeed, writing half a century ago Hancock maintained that, after the gold rushes and reforms to the democratic process:
Australian nationalism took definite form in the class struggle between the landless majority and the land monopolising squatters.[4]
Because police were at the forefront of repressing selector agitation they were inevitably part of that struggle. As one police officer at the time described it, the Kelly Outbreak was a form of ‘guerrilla warfare’ and the police of the region were ‘an army of occupation’. The unpopularity of the police in rural areas assured the hero status of bushrangers in Australian history. It is true that Kelly’s ‘enemies, even more than his allies, helped make him a legend’.
As at Eureka twenty-five years previously, economic oppression combined with repressive policing to provide the backdrop for escalating conflict and loss of life during the Kelly Outbreak in the late 1870s. The Kelly saga also has some continuity with earlier struggles over land. One Aboriginal tribe includes Ned Kelly in their Dream stories that depict Kelly as ‘concerned with freedom, dignity and true justice’ because he opposed the police, who Aboriginal people associate with theft of land and destruction of life. Chief Commissioner Standish refused to address a police parade after Kelly’s capture until the Queensland Native Police, who had assisted in the hunt, were removed.
In the early 1880s policing in Victoria’s rural areas became less militaristic. These changes are usually credited to the pressure for reform brought by the Royal Commission into policing and the far sightedness of individual police. It is also true, however, that the changes to policing coincided with a shift in the significance of land as a basis for social division. Land was the major means of production in the first century of Australia’s history. By 1880, however, Victoria had moved out of plantation and development-style economies, typified by the ascendancy of the squatters and the gold rushes and into an economy where industrial capital dominated. From this time on major class divisions revolved, not around land, but around the divisions between wage labour and the capitalists that employed them. For most Victorians survival after the gold rushes and the failures of selection meant waged labour. Those selectors who survived into the 1880s generally only did so by working part-time, fencing, shearing, and the like. In the 1880s, the focus of police repression also shifted away from rural areas towards cities and regional towns where worker movements and militancy were on the rise.

[1] Morrissey, S., Squatters and Selectors: A Social and Economic History.
[2] Molony, J., I am Ned Kelly, (Allen Lane), 1980, 2nd ed., (Melbourne University Press), 2001.
[3] Pastoral Times, 10 July 1880.
[4] Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 60.