Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Castle Hill Rising: Uncovering insurrection

Anti-authoritarianism was characteristic of republican subversives and part of a pattern of behaviour established in Ireland.   To see their sustained defiance of the colonial government simply as a reaction to the prospects of overdue emancipation greatly under-estimates their shared ideology and paramilitary experience and provided a firm grounding in undercover activities.  Many urban criminals would also have possessed skills of this type but it was primarily the Irish convicts with political associations who were credited with unsettling the colony.  Hunter was right to worry; in 1800 just six months after the arrival of the Minerva a new rebellion was being planned on the Government Farm at Toongabbie.[1]
The Irish leaders, aware of the role arms played in the rebellions in Ireland, also planned for pikes to be manufactured and hidden to ensure the rebels were well armed. The rebellion involved taking Parramatta and dealing with the hated Samuel Marsden who had earned a reputation as the ‘flogging parson’.[2] The plan was that after Marsden had been killed, the rebels would pike the soldiers in their beds, take their muskets and march on Sydney. The plan was betrayed by informants who gave Marsden word of the insurrection. When the leaders of the rebellion learned this they quickly cancelled the uprising. Governor Hunter led an inquiry into the insurrection in which Marsden in his typical manner over-zealously pursued the issue of the hidden pikes. Marsden threatened the Irish Catholic preacher James Harold on the issue of the location of the pikes.[3] Harold prevaricated but under pressure from Marsden he finally revealed the name of a supposed pike maker, Bryan Furey. Furey denied making the pikes but later told Marsden that Harold had contacted him to make some fake ones to get Marsden off Harold’s back. Marsden eventually sent Harold to Norfolk Island and Furey to gaol despite any evidence linking them to the pikes.
File:Parramatta 1812.jpg
Engraving of Parramatta, c1812

The failed insurrection of August and the removal of the suspected Irish leaders to remote parts of the colony did not dampen the convicts’ enthusiasm for organised rebellion. In September of 1800 another insurrection was planned.[4] This one was to use the pikes that had not already been found. The rebels were to assemble at Parramatta on a Sunday morning when the local authorities and hierarchies would be in Church service. There the rebels would overpower the soldiers and then march on Sydney. The leaders used an escaped convict, John Lewis to send messages from farm to farm. Unfortunately Lewis was captured, gaoled and eventually talked of the rebellion. From the information Lewis gave, Captain John MacArthur of the NSW Corps received a shakily written letter that relayed that a ‘Croppie’ uprising was about to occur. MacArthur’s advice to the Governor was to wait for the convicts to rebel and once they were out in the open deal with them. The rebel leaders learned that their plan had been discovered and halted their operations. Marsden once again zealously set about trying to discover the hidden pikes. Several more informants came forward and one named the still gaoled Bryan Furey as a pike maker. From the increasing information the NSW Corps was able to round up the ringleaders; William Silk, Micheal Quintan, Maurice Wood, John Burke and Thomas Brannon. They were flogged and isolated from the general convict population on the hulk Supply in Sydney Harbour. The remainder of the rebels were given either five hundred or two hundred lashes.

The authorities seem to have feared that Holt, an experienced rebel leader, would be a centre of disaffection, but nothing was farther from his plans. As a lower middle-class Irish Protestant with firm notions of respectability Holt wanted to better his position by thrift and hard work and remained divorced from what he saw as impractical insurrection. Despite this, he was implicated as a leader in the rebellion but without substantial proof of his involvement he was spared the lash as was Harold. [5] As a form of punishment for their suspected complicity with the rebels both Holt and Harold, who were still being detained from the previous insurrection, were made to watch the floggings of two convicted offenders, Maurice Fitzgerald and Paddy Galvin on the orders of Judge-Advocate Richard Atkins and Marsden. Holt left a vivid account.

The place they flogged them their arms pulled around a large tree and their breasts squeezed against the trunk so the men had no power to cringe ... There was two floggers, Richard Rice and John Johnson the Hangman from Sydney. Rice was left-handed man and Johnson was right-handed, so they stood at each side, and I never saw two threchers in a barn move their strokes more handier than those two man-killers did....
I [Holt] was to the leeward of the floggers...I was two perches from them. The flesh and skin blew in my face as it shook off the cats. Fitzgerald received his 300 lashes. Doctor Mason - I will never forget him - he used to go feel his pulse, and he smiled, and said: ‘This man will tire you before he will fail - Go on.’...During this time [Fitzgerald] was getting his punishment he never gave so much as a word - only one, and that was saying, ‘Don’t strike me on the neck, flog me fair.’
When he was let loose, two of the constables went and took hold of him by the arms to keep him in the cart. I was standing by. [H]e said to them, ‘Let me go.’ He struck both of them with his elbows in the pit of the stomach and knocked them both down, and then stepped in the cart. I heard Dr. Mason say that man had enough strength to bear 200 more.
Next was tied up Paddy Galvin, a young boy about 20 years of age. He was ordered to get 300 lashes. He got one hundred on the back, and you could see his backbone between his shoulder blades. Then the Doctor ordered him to get another hundred on his bottom. He got it, and then his haunches were in such a jelly that the Doctor ordered him to be flogged on the calves of his legs. He got one hundred there and as much as a whimper he never gave. They asked him if he would tell where the pikes were hid. He said he did not know, and would not tell. ‘You may as well hang me now,’ he said, ‘for you never will get any music from me so.’ They put him in the cart and sent him to the Hospital.[6]

No aspects of Marsden’s activities did more harm to his pastoral work or to his historical character in Australia than his reputation for extreme severity as a magistrate. This particular action was scarcely defensible, but Marsden was not the only magistrate who ordered the infliction of illegal punishments.

In 1801, the transport ship Anne arrived at Sydney with 69 United Irishmen out of the 178 convicts on-board. Governor King was disturbed as the rebel leaders from the previous rebellions had been uncovered and sent to remote parts of the colony.[7] The arrival of the Anne promised another group of United Irishmen leaders who could cause problems in the convict population, a view reinforced by the convict mutiny on the ship en route. The Anne brought news of Irish Union and King hoped that this would persuade the Irish convicts to accept their fate in Australia. This proved a forlorn hope. The Irish political prisoners had been fighting against English rule for several years and wanted to go home. The main opponent in their way to getting home was the British authorities in Sydney and Parramatta. During the next year four more rebellion plots were uncovered. All were foiled by informants in the convict population. Two of the plots involved escaping by ship, either by seizing a ship or seeking passage on a French ship. The Governor was so concerned that convicts would escape by sea such that even in 1804 with word of a possible convict uprising. Several American ships were sent out of Sydney Harbour on King’s orders because he suspected that they would be sympathetic to the rebelling Irish convicts. [8]

In 1803 there were still outstanding issues for the Irish convicts. The idents stating the term the prisoners were to remain exiled in NSW still had not arrived from England.[9] Until the idents arrived all Irish prisoners were stuck in the penal colony. There continued to be escape attempts by convicts both English and Irish. Inevitably the escapees would raid nearby farms for liquor and firearms. In February 1803, fifteen convicts escaped from a farm at Castle Hill and raided the farm of Verincourt de Flambe for liquor, silverware and firearms.[10] Two of the convicts, Patrick Gannan and Francis Simpson went on to the farmhouse of James Bean and raped his seventeen year old daughter but were captured two days later asleep in the bush and hanged.[11]

[1] Hunter to Officers, 4 September 1800, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 119-130 details the enquiry into the insurrection.
[2] Yarwood, A.T., ‘Marsden, Samuel (1765-1838)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 207-212.
[3] Perkins, Harold, ‘Harold, James (1744-1830)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 512-513.
[4] King to Portland, 12 October 1800, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 234-238. See also the detailed papers relating to the Irish conspiracy in 1800 in HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 575-583, 637- 651.
[5] Despite his vigorous protests Holt was arrested twice more for suspected complicity in plans for an Irish rising. On Christmas Eve 1803 he was haled before Atkins on a false accusation of plotting his murder, but was again cleared. Three months later, however, he was detained after the Castle Hill rising and transported to Norfolk Island, where he remained until November 1805. Nevertheless he seems to have held aloof from conspiracies, having a lively fear of informers and contempt for the amateurish tactics of the disaffected Irish Catholics. Returning to his farm, Holt met no further trouble except the confiscation of an illicit still in 1806. Through Major Edward Abbott he secured a free pardon from Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson in 1809, confirmed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811. Next year Holt sold his properties for over £1,800 and returned to Ireland often lamenting that he had left NSW.
[6] Ibid, Croker, T.C., (ed.), Memoirs of Joseph Holt: general of the Irish rebels, in 1798, Vol. 2, pp. 119-122.
[7] King to Portland, 10 March 1801, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 325-326.
[8] This was followed up in the Government and General Order, 31 March 1805, HRNSW, Vol. 5, pp. 588-589 that laid down penalties for helping convicts to abscond.
[9] King had commented on this problem earlier to Portland, 21 August 1801, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 463-464.
[10] Details of this can be found in George Caley’s account of the colony of NSW from 1800 to 1803, HRNSW, Vol. 5, p. 300 and in King to Hobart, 9 May 1803, HRA, Series I, Vol. 4, pp. 84-85.
[11] Additional soldiers were sent to Castle Hill as a result; see Government and General Order, 16 February 1803, HRNSW, Vol. 5, p. 22. See also Sydney Gazette, 5, 19 March 1803. The executions occurred on 23 March, HRNSW, Vol. 5, p. 74.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Castle Hill Rising: Transportation

Most rebels were fiercely republican after having seen the successful creation of the United States and the changes caused by the French Revolution. Republican notions such as natural rights and a popularly elected upper house were a major threat to those whose power rested on established monarchical and oligarchic institutions. Political dissidents were seen and handled as a threat to British society. Audrey Oldfield suggests

There is a case for contending that Britain (unlike many other European nations) escaped outright revolution in the nineteenth century by being able to siphon off its radicals (as convicts) and its paupers (as assisted immigrants) to the other side of the world. [1]

The British Government preferred deporting or exiling political prisoners to Botany Bay rather than risk creating martyrs if they were executed, something that was largely confined to leaders.[2] This was an effective policy for the British and the manner in which they dealt with all political dissent in England, Scotland and the British colonies.

Prison hulk c1810

The first Irish political prisoners were not the United Irishmen who arrived in NSW on the Minerva and the Friendship in January 1800.[3] Whitaker argues that about 400 of the several thousand United Irishmen sentenced to transportation actually reached NSW; a total 58 less than A.G.L. Shaw’s figure but 75 more than George Rudé’s.[4] However, of the 519 male prisoners disembarked in NSW from four ships between 1793 and 1797, between 200 and 300 convicts were probably Defenders. Defenders made up at least half of all Irish political prisoners who arrived in New South Wales before to 1806. The 233 men landed in Port Jackson from the Boddingtons[5] and Sugar Cane[6] had all been sentenced in or before 1793, predating the merger with the United Irishmen.  The many Defenders among the 286 male convicts transported on the Marquis Cornwallis[7] and Britannia[8] in 1796-1797 were technically United Irishmen.[9] There is every indication that they would have been described as United Irishmen but for the confusion of the Irish authorities about republican terminology and changing patterns of association. Although the transported Defenders did not participate in the Rebellion of 1798, there is little else to distinguish them from the later United Irishmen. Discussion of Irish political prisoners in NSW that does not include ‘United Irish Defenders’ in their calculations of Irish numerical strength provides a partial view of seditious affairs in the colony.  There is no reason to assume that the political prisoners of the Marquis Cornwallis and Britannia would have been regarded as anything but comrades by rebels arriving on the Minerva and Friendship in 1800.  Close ideological ties are also likely to have existed between them and the unaligned Defenders of the Boddingtons and Sugar Cane.

Convicts en route for Australia

The precise number of Defenders and United Irishmen transported to New South Wales prior to 1800 is a problematic issue that available sources cannot resolve.  While it seems that there were very few political prisoners on the Queen of 1791, an unknown number were put on board the Boddingtons and Sugar Cane in 1793. As 60-70 men on the Boddingtons were convicted in counties where violent Defender inspired disturbances had occurred it can be assumed, following A.G.L. Shaw’s rule of thumb, that many of them were members of that organisation.[10] The Sugar Cane, conversely, carried fewer prisoners from these districts and a higher proportion of Dubliners, an area not greatly agitated by Defenderism at that time.[11] Information concerning the Britannia and Marquis Cornwallis is more conclusive and Rudé agreed with Shaw’s identification of ‘about’ 100 Defenders on these Ships.[12] However, a close comparison of disturbed districts with prisoner trial places could yield a figure not much less than the total male complement of 163 men on the Marquis Cornwallis.[13] Sufficient numbers of Defenders were sentenced in 1793 to fill several transports though relatively few of these men arrived in NSW.  Of the 25 Louth Defenders sentenced to transportation at Dundalk assizes in March 1793, only four were embarked. Similarly, only two of the twelve sentenced at the Cork city and county assizes in March 1794 actually arrived.

In 1795 the Marquis Cornwallis had a reputation as a ‘political’ ship; contemporary accounts stated it left Cork on 9 August with ‘seventy...Defenders’ on board.[14] The Britannia also embarked substantial numbers of Defender/United Irish convicts who could have amounted to the entire male complement given the turmoil in which that year’s assizes had taken place.   A county breakdown of the most likely Defender prisoners on board the Britannia gives a figure of 145 men that included some criminals and omitted political prisoners from less disturbed counties. 60 of the 107 non-Dubliners received life sentences, a marked increase on the 40% rate on the non-political Queen, may indicate a high incidence of seditious crimes.  Britannia was also the first ship to leave Ireland after the passage of the draconian Insurrection Act in 1796 that may explain a Dublin press report of August 1796 stating ‘fifty convicts...[were] shipped from the North Wall for Botany Bay’ of whom ‘three quarters’, roughly 38, were Defenders. As the Britannia landed only 39 male convicts from Dublin city and county in Port Jackson in May 1797 it would appear it had been designated a ‘political’ ship.

Transportation ship

The intriguing and ill-discipline of the exiled Defenders that concerned Governor Hunter and frightened Governor King was very apparent during the voyages of the four ships with Defender convicts.[15]  One man was summarily executed for mutiny on the Sugar Cane and some details of a plot on the Boddingtons reached the colony.[16] While mutiny and escape were common topics of conversation among all convicts, the Defender/United Irishmen of the Britannia and Marquis Cornwallis planned uprisings that resulted in the deaths of about 26 men and two official enquiries in Port Jackson.[17] The rebellious conduct of the convicts on the Britannia and Marquis Cornwallis before and after arrival in NSW seems to have prejudiced the colonial administration against later shipments of prisoners who had taken part in the 1798 rebellion.  That two mutinies of a similar nature had been suppressed on successive voyages must have struck Hunter as the probable consequence of transporting Defenders and United Irishmen en masse.  The serious problems also occurred on the Anne, Hercules, Atlas I and Minerva in 1800-1802 but not the criminal Queen and Rolla highlighted the political factor. The Minerva contained amongst the Irish rebels, Joseph Holt[18] and James Harold. Joseph Holt had struck up a friendship with the land owner William Cox on the ship and was given a job managing Cox’s Dundas farm in western Sydney. Many of the United Irishmen on the Minerva were sent off to Norfolk Island in an attempt to disperse them. There was considerable opposition to such transports by Hunter and his successor Governor King but neither had any real control over the numbers or type of prisoners embarked for NSW.[19] The Governors were also remarkably ill-informed as to the character of Irish prisoners as documents setting down their names and crimes and sentences generally only arrived years after the ships if at all.[20] This created an atmosphere of paranoia in the colony that was accentuated by the United Irish plots of 1800 and the Castle Hill uprising in March 1804.[21]

Discussion of rank and file Defenders in the Australian context has hitherto centred on a series of oft quoted comments made by Governor Hunter in 1796 regarding ‘those turbulent and worthless characters called Irish Defenders’ who had boldly ‘threatened resistance to all orders’.[22] As no such opinions were expressed by Hunter’s predecessor in relation to the Defenders sent out in 1793 it would appear that his blanket hostility resulted from the ability of the Britannia and Marquis Cornwallis convicts to destabilise the colony and his knowledge of their plotting on the voyages from Ireland. To the Governor’s intense annoyance, the Defenders who arrived in 1796-1797 not only disaffected otherwise peaceable English convicts but escaped both frequently and in large numbers.  Hunter complained they had ‘completely ruined... [those] formerly received from England’ and threatened ‘that order so highly essential to our well being’.[23]  One of the more serious and disruptive breakouts involved a twenty strong ‘gang of...Defenders’ who were so obstinate when apprehended that Hunter had two executed.[24] Hunter’s exasperation with the ‘Defenders’ moved him to suggest that they should not be sent to NSW but rather to ‘Africa, or some other place as fit for them’.[25]

[1] Ibid, Oldfield, Audrey, The Great Republic of the Southern Seas: Republicans in Nineteenth-Century Australia, p. 212.

[2] Retribution for the rebel leaders in 1798 was swift and largely uncompromising. Bagenal Harvey, Cornelius Grogan, Mathew Keogh, and Anthony Perry, all Wexford commanders and all Protestants were executed; their heads were cut off and stuck on spikes outside the courthouse in Wexford town. Father John Murphy, the hero of Oulart and Enniscorthy was captured in Tullow, County Carlow. He was stripped, flogged, hanged and beheaded: his corpse was burned in a barrel. With an eye for detail, the local Yeomanry spiked his head on a building directly opposite the local Catholic church. By the end of the rebellion between 10,000 and 25,000 rebels including a high proportion of non-combatants had been killed, most summarily.

[3] The discussion of Defenders draws heavily on O’Donnell, Ruán, ‘Desperate and Diabolical’: Defenders and United Irishmen in early NSW’, unpublished paper.

[4] Whitaker, Anne-Maree, Unfinished Revolution: United Irishmen in New South Wales, 1800-1810, (Crossing Press), 1994, p. 29, Rudé, George, ‘Early Irish Rebels in Australia’, Historical Studies, Vol. 16, (1974-1975), p. 23 and ibid, Shaw, A.G.L., Convicts & the Colonies, p. 170.

[5] Hall, Barbara, Of Infamous Character: The Convicts of the Boddingtons, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1793, (B. Hall), 2004.

[6] Hall, Barbara, A Nimble Fingered Tribe: The Convicts of the Sugar Cane, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1793, (B. Hall), 2002, 2nd ed., 2009.

[7] Hall, Barbara, A Desperate Set of Villains: The Convicts of the Marquis Cornwallis, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1796, (B. Hall), 2000, 2nd ed., 2003, 3rd ed., 2005.

[8] Hall, Barbara, Death or Liberty: The Convicts of the Britannia, Ireland to Botany Bay, 1797, (B. Hall), 2006.

[9] Boddingtons arrived 7 August 1793, Sugar Cane 17 September 1793, Marquis Cornwallis in February 1796 and Britannia on 27 May 1797.  See also, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, pp. 446, 454 and Vol. 2, p. 31. 

[10] Ibid, Shaw, A.G.L., Convicts & the Colonies, p. 171.

[11] There were 53 county and city Dubliners on the Sugar Cane as opposed to 36 on the Boddingtons and 12 Corconians up from 3.  Only one convict on Sugar Cane came from Louth and Monaghan and none from Donegal.

[12] See, ibid, Shaw, A.G.L., Convicts & the Colonies, p. 171 and ibid, Rudé, George, ‘Early Irish Rebels in Australia’, p. 19.

[13] Over 200 men were sentenced to transportation in 1795 alone. 

[14] New Cork Evening Post, 10 August 1795.

[15] Ibid, Shaw, A.G.L., Convicts & the Colonies, p. 168.

[16] Ibid, Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships, pp. 129-130.

[17] Hunter to Portland, 5 September 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 653, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 102-111.

[18] Joseph Holt was born in Ireland in 1756 and became a tenant farmer and as a trusted Protestant loyalist held some minor local positions. About 1797, he joined the United Irishmen in part because of a private feud with the landlord Thomas Hugo. In 1798, the Fermanagh Militia burned his house down on Hugo’s orders. Holt fought in the Wexford County rebellion before successfully leading a rebel guerrilla group in Wicklow County. Eventually he came to the conclusion that it was in his interests to surrender in order to get the best terms he could for himself and his wife. This led to exile without trial in the colony of NSW. After the 1804 Rebellion, he was exiled again to Norfolk Island and then VDL. He returned to Sydney and was given a land grant in order to farm. Holt was granted a pardon in 1809 before returning to Ireland in 1812. He wrote a personnel account of the rebellions in Wicklow and NSW: Croker, T.C., (ed.), Memoirs of Joseph Holt: general of the Irish rebels, in 1798, 2 Vols. (H. Colburn), 1838, Vol. 2 covers his life in Australia. He died in 1826. See also, Bolton, G.C., ‘Holt, Joseph (1756-1826)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 550-551.

[19] King to Portland, 21 May 1802, HRA, Series I, Vol. 3, p. 489.

[20] Portland to Hunter, 2 March 1797, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, p. 9.  King to Castlereagh, 24 July 1798 and Hunter to Portland, 1 November 1798, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 234-236.

[21] King came to regard virtually all Irish male prisoners sent to New South Wales after 1793 as dangerous as the ‘diabolical characters’ of the Anne: King to Portland, 28 September 1800, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, p. 614.  See also King to Portland, 10 March 1801, HRA, Series I, Vol. 3, p. 9.

[22] Hunter to Portland, 12 November 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 674.

[23] Hunter to Portland, 10 January 1798, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, p. l18.

[24] Hunter to Portland, 15 February 1798, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, p. 129, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 359-360.

[25] Hunter to Portland, 12 November 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 675.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Castle Hill Rising: the Irish context

From the early 1790s through to the last group of convicts transported to Western Australia in 1868, Australia was frequently the destination for Ireland’s political prisoners. The Defenders and United Irishmen were transported to NSW in the 1790s and early 1800s[1], the rural rebels and defeated members of Young Ireland to VDL between the 1820s and early 1850s and Fenians to Western Australia. These convicts brought the conflicts from Ireland with them and especially their struggle against ‘Imperial’ Britain.[2] As a result, they were among the most fractious and, from the perspective of the colonial authorities, the most dangerous and disruptive group in the emerging colonies. Between 1800 and 1807, there were at least three planned rebellions that were thwarted before they could break out and the Castle Hill Rising of 1804 when a convict rebellion was put down with considerable ferocity.
Since the sixteenth century, the fundamental division in Ireland has been and remains religious.[3] To be a full member of Irish civil society, individuals had to be members of the Anglican Church of Ireland. Irish Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters were barred from certain professions such as law, the judiciary and the army and had restrictions on inheriting land. Catholics could not bear arms or exercise their religion publicly. With papal recognition of the Hanoverian dynasty in 1766, the threat to the Protestant Ascendancy eased and many Penal Laws were relaxed or lightly enforced. In addition, some Catholic gentry families got around the Penal Laws by making nominal conversions to Protestantism or by getting one family member to ‘convert’ in order to hold land for the rest of his family or to take a large mortgage on it. From 1766, Catholics favoured reform and their views were represented by the ‘Catholic Committees’, a moderate organisation of Catholic gentry and clergy in each county that called for the repeal of the Penal Laws and emphasised their loyalty. Reforms on land ownership occurred in 1771 and in 1778-1779. Calls for change were also evident among the Irish Protestant elite that had come to see Ireland as their native country. Politically active Irishmen were far from disinterested when arguing their political stance on issues such as Irish independence or parliamentary reform. [4]
This was clear by 1776, when a trade-off between sympathy for the American cause and loyalty to the English neighbour had to be sought.[5] Due to continuing concerns about the way Ireland was treated commercially as well as politically, the debate intensified. A Parliamentary faction led by Henry Grattan agitated for a more favourable trading relationship with England, in particular abolition of the Navigation Acts that enforced tariffs on Irish goods in English markets, but allowed no tariffs for English goods in Ireland.[6] From the 1720s, Irish parliamentarians also campaigned for legislative independence for the Dublin parliament, especially the repeal of Poynings Law that allowed the Westminster Parliament to legislate for Ireland. Many of their demands were met in 1782, when Free Trade was granted between Ireland and England and Poynings Law was amended devolving legislative powers to Dublin. Partly as a result of the trade laws being liberalised, Ireland went through an economic boom in the 1780s. Canals extended from Dublin westwards and the Four Courts and Post Office were established. Dublin’s granite-lined quays were built and it boasted that it was the ‘second city of the empire’. Corn Laws were introduced in 1784 to give a bounty on flour shipped to Dublin promoting the spread of mills and tillage.
Instrumental in achieving reform was the Irish Volunteers movement, founded in Belfast in 1778.[7] This militia, up to 100,000 strong, was formed to defend Ireland from foreign invasion during the American Revolutionary War, but was outside of government control and staged armed demonstrations in favour of Grattan’s reforming agenda. Under the influence of the Volunteers, whose membership included many with different political agendas, many ideological subtleties and difficulties of practical politics were brought to the attention of Irish Patriots, especially the predicament of an elitist and elite-led political movement attracting people from very diverse backgrounds due to a commitment to egalitarian policies, as well as the issue of Catholic emancipation. For the first time, the Protestant-ascendant prejudice that Catholics were unfit for political participation, was criticised, and became especially dangerous to articulate because of increasing Catholic membership in some Volunteer clubs. These differences were aggravated when the Tithe Dispute of 1785-1788, conflict surrounding the tax that everyone including Catholics, many of whom expressed their opposition to it, had to pay to the Church of Ireland raised the Catholic cause again. This sparked a row between those who would accept the treatment of Catholics as a somewhat inferior class of citizens denying that they had the same reasons to demand civil liberties and non-interference by the state as Protestants and those who refused to subscribe to this notion.
The French Revolution had a dual impact on Irish Patriotism.[8] First, it helped less radical Patriots to overcome their assumptions respecting the political maturity of Catholics that many Republicans and radical Patriots had already abandoned by that time. Since in France contemporary Catholics had proven their ability to overthrow a system synonymous with injustice for most Patriots, Catholics were no longer regarded as politically incapable. After 1789, some Volunteer units showed their sympathy with the French Revolution by holding parades on 14 July to commemorate the fall of the Bastille. In 1792, Grattan succeeded in carrying an Act conferring the franchise on the Roman Catholics; in 1794, he introduced a reform bill that was even less democratic than Flood’s bill of 1783. He was as anxious as Flood had been to retain the legislative power in the hands of men of property, for he had a strong conviction that while Ireland could best be governed by Irish hands, democracy in Ireland would inevitably turn to plunder and anarchy. The defeat of Grattan’s mild proposals helped to promote more extreme opinions. However, as soon as the Jacobin regime assumed power in France, radical Patriots became more reluctant to refer to France as a prime example of Catholic political action for the causes of liberty and justice. Nevertheless, one of the main inconsistencies on the Patriot political agenda by calling for increasing powers of the Irish parliament while maintaining the selective as opposed to universal suffrage seemed to have been dissolved.
However, the French Revolution also had a second, contrasting, effect. Conservative loyalists such as John Foster, John Fitzgibbon and John Beresford, however, remained opposed to further concessions to Catholics and, led by the ‘Junta’, argued that the ‘Protestant Interest’ could only be secured by maintaining the connection with Britain. In reactionary circles, it was used to emphasise the point that an open political debate without censorship as well as parliamentary reform could entail a severe blow to their special interests, and could be tantamount to inviting Radicals to overturn the political structure of the country, rather than just appeasing them. In particular, the French Revolution prompted relentless action against the radical wing of the Patriot movement, the United Irishmen that included many former Whigs. It also prevented more moderate Patriots from supporting some radical Patriot activities without reservation, depriving the Patriot movement of solidarity and unity.
The United Irishmen movement, formed in 1791, was based on an alliance between the Dissenter and Catholic bourgeoisie including Northern manufacturers, merchants and professionals; Belfast and Dublin artisans; and Catholic peasants (the Defenders), against an entrenched Protestant Ascendancy that had many features of the French pre-revolutionary ‘ancien regime’. An anonymous eleven-page pamphlet, The Union Doctrine; or Poor Man’s Catechism, voiced the aspirations of many ordinary workers and peasants in the 1790s
I believe in a revolution founded on the rights of man, in the natural and imprescriptable rights of all citizens to all the land...As the land and its produce was intended for the use of man ‘tis unfair for 50 or 100 men to possess what is for the subsistence of near five millions...the almighty intended all mankind to lord the soil.[9]
Initially the United Irishmen campaigned for the end to religious discrimination and the widening of the right to vote. However, the group soon radicalised its aims and sought to overthrow British rule and found a non-sectarian republic.[10] The United Irishmen spread quickly throughout the country. Republicanism was particularly attractive to the largely literate Ulster Presbyterian community, being literate, who were also discriminated against for their religion, and who had strong links with Scots-Irish American emigrants who had fought against Britain in the American Revolution. Many Catholics, particularly the emergent Catholic middle-class, were also attracted to the movement and it claimed over 200,000 members by 1798. Both the United Irishmen and the Volunteers were suppressed after Revolutionary France in 1793 declared war on Britain and they developed from a political movement into a military organisation preparing for armed rebellion. However, these measures did nothing to calm the situation in Ireland and these reforms were bitterly opposed by the ‘ultra-loyalist’ Protestants such as John Foster. Violence and disorder became widespread and in 1795, hardening loyalist attitudes led to the foundation of the Orange Order, a hard-line Protestant grouping.
The United Irishmen now dedicated to armed revolution, forged links with the Defenders, a militant Catholic society.[11] Wolfe Tone, the United Irish leader, went to France to seek French military support and a French expeditionary force of 15,000 troops arrived off Bantry Bay in December 1796, but failed to land due to a combination of indecisiveness, poor seamanship, and storms off the Bantry coast.[12] The government began a campaign of repression targeted against the United Irishmen, including executions, routine use of torture, transportation to penal colonies and house burnings. As the repression began to bite, the United Irishmen decided to go ahead with an insurrection without French help. Their activity culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.[13] The uprising in Dublin failed but the rebellion then spread in an apparently random fashion firstly around Dublin, then briefly in Kildare[14], Meath, Carlow and Wicklow.[15] County Wexford[16] in the southeast saw the most sustained fighting, to be briefly joined by rebels who took to the field in Antrim and Down in the north.[17] A small French force landed in Killala Bay in Mayo leading to a last outbreak of rebellion in counties Mayo, Leitrim and Longford. The rebellion lasted just three months before it was suppressed, but claimed an estimated 30,000 lives. The Republican ideal of a non-sectarian society was greatly damaged by sectarian atrocities committed by both sides with government troops and militia targeting Catholics in general and the rebels on several occasions killing Protestant loyalist civilians.[18]
The post-rebellion repression meant few spoke or wrote of the events from rebel perspectives, and as a result almost all initial accounts of the rebellion were written from the loyalist perspective describing it as little more then the actions of sectarian mobs intent on massacring all Protestants. Even reformers sought to hide from the programme of 1798 to unite Irishmen regardless of Creed. After 1798 they turned to the confessional politics of mobilising Catholics alone. Daniel O’Connell, the main architect of this policy went so far in 1841 as to denounce the United Irishmen as ‘wicked and villainously designing wretches who fomented the rebellion’.[19] The first response to the loyalist history in Ireland was an alternative but parallel history produced to suit a Catholic and nationalist agenda. In many loyalist histories, the role of Catholicism in the rebellion was greatly exaggerated[20] but ironically this distortion later suited the aims of the Catholic Church in Ireland, allowing it to claim a leadership role in Irish nationalism during the nineteenth century. The nationalist and largely Catholic history of the rising was determined by the needs of the Catholic Church when faced with the nationalist revival and the socialist influenced Fenian movement one hundred years later. This is a history that had several aims; to hide the role of the church hierarchy in condemning the rising and instead claim that the church led the rising; to blame the failure of the rising on underground revolutionary organisation as an attack on the Fenians; and to minimise the involvement of Northern Presbyterians and democratic ideas. The reality that it actively sided with the British during the rising was ignored and the role of the few Catholic priests who took part in the rising, such as Fr. John Murphy, was overemphasised. The secular Enlightenment ideology of the mostly Protestant United Irish leadership was deliberately obscured.[21] By the centenary of the Rebellion in 1898, conservative Irish nationalists and the Catholic Church would both claim that the United Irishmen had been fighting for ‘Faith and Fatherland’ and this version of events is still, to some extent, the lasting popular memory of the rebellion.[22]

[1] Whitaker, Anne-Maree, ‘Swords to ploughshares? The 1798 Irish rebels in New South Wales’, Labour History, Vol. 75, (1998), pp. 9-32.
[2] See especially the discussion above, pp. 227-253.
[3] Elliott, Marianne, When God Took Sides: Religion and Identity in Irish History, (Oxford University Press), 2009.
[4] Small, Stephen, Political Thought in Ireland 1776-1798: Republicanism, Patriotism and Radicalism, (Oxford University Press), 2002, provides a detailed analysis of the development of Irish Patriotism into radical republicanism.
[5] See, Morley, Vincent, Irish opinion and the American Revolution, 1760-1783, (Cambridge University Press), 2002.
[6] On Grattan see, Madden, D.O., (ed.), The speeches of the Right Hon. Henry Grattan: to which is added his letter on the union, with a commentary on his career and character, 2 Vols. (J. Duffy), 1822, Grattan, Henry, Memoirs of the life and times of the Rt. Hon. Henry Grattan by his son, 2 Vols. (H. Colburn), 1839, 1846. See also, Mansergh D., Grattan’s failure Parliamentary Opposition and the People in Ireland, (Irish Academic Press), 2005.
[7] Rogers, Patrick, The Irish Volunteers and Catholic emancipation (1778-1793); a neglected phase of Ireland’s history, (Burns, Oates & Washbourne), 1934, a slightly romanticised account. Higgins, Padhraig, A Nation of Politicians: Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-century Ireland, (Four Courts Press), 2010 should now be regarded as the definitive work.
[8] Smyth, Jim, (ed.), Revolution, counter-revolution, and union: Ireland in the 1790s, (Cambridge University Press), 2000, especially pp. 1-38.
[9] Cit, ibid, Smyth, Jim, The Men of No Property: Irish radicals and popular Politics in the Late Eighteenth Century, p. 168.
[10] Ibid, Elliott, Marianne, Partners in Revolution: the United Irishmen and France, ibid, Dickson, David Keogh, Dáire and Whelan, Kevin, (eds.), The United Irishmen: republicanism, radicalism, and rebellion and Curtin, Nancy, The United Irishmen: popular politics in Ulster and Dublin, 1791-1798, (Oxford University Press), 1998
[11] From its origins in Armagh in 1784 as the Catholic faction in a local sectarian feud, the Defender movement had gradually spread along lines of religious cleavage or cultural frontiers into County Down, Louth and south Ulster. Stimulated by the news and controversy about the French revolution and encouraged by the Catholic agitation, the Defenders were transformed into a politicised secret society. This process was then reinforced and the Defender organisation expanded from Meath across the north midlands into Connaught, by the continuing economic, political, and law-and-order crisis. By 1795, Defenderism had a presence in at least 16 counties and in Dublin. They had successfully infiltrated the militia and knit far-flung lodges into a co-ordinated, if not well-disciplined, organisation. Defenderism had evolved a chameleon ideology infinitely adaptable to varying local conditions: on some occasions sectarian, then agrarian, always francophile and anti-ascendancy. With the emergence of a recognisable regional command structure in Ulster and a Catholic leadership aligned to the radical northern wing of the United Irishmen, the stage had been set for the making of a revolutionary coalition.
[12] Elliott, Marianne, Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence, (Yale University Press), 1991.
[13] Ibid, Pakenham, T., The Year of Liberty: the great Irish rebellion of 1798 remains an excellent narrative. See also, Bartlett, Thomas, (ed.), 1798: a bicentenary perspective, (Four Courts), 2003.
[14] Chambers, Liam, Rebellion in Kildare 1790-1803, (Four Courts), 1998.
[15] O’Donnell, Ruán, The rebellion in Wicklow, 1798, (Irish Academic Press), 2003.
[16] Hay, Edward, History of the Insurrection of County Wexford, (J. Stockdale), 1803, Wheeler, H.F.B. & Broadley, A.M., The war in Wexford: an account of the rebellion in the south of Ireland in 1798, told from original documents, (J. Lane), 1910, Dickson, Charles, The Wexford Rising in 1798: its causes and course, (The Kerryman), 1955 and Keogh, Dáire and Furlong, Nicholas, (eds.), The Mighty Wave: the 1798 rebellion in Wexford, (Four Courts), 1996.
[17] Stewart, A.T.Q., The Summer Soldiers: the 1798 Rebellion in Antrim and Down, (Blackstaff Press), 1995.
[18] The leadership of the rebellion both United Irishmen and the Catholic priests tried to defuse the sectarian tension and prevent massacres. None of this is to deny that there were sectarian tensions and indeed sectarian elements to the massacres, perhaps most openly after the rebel army had abandoned Wexford.
[19] Freeman’s Journal, 22 May 1841.
[20] See, for example, Musgrave, Richard, Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland, 2 Vols. Vol. 2, (R. Marchbank), 1801 who spent over half of this volume on the Wexford rising but paid far less attention to the rising in Ulster.
[21] Kavanagh, Fr. Patrick F., A Popular History of the Insurrection of 1798: derived from every available written record and reliable tradition, (M.H. Gill & Son), 1880.
[22] See Geary, Lawrence M., Rebellion and remembrance in modern Ireland, (Four Courts), 2001.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Clunes 1873: Constructing a new narrative

Once occupied by the Wemba-Wemba people, the first European settler was Donald Cameron, an overlander from Sydney who took up a pastoral run in 1839, naming it Clunes after his birthplace in Scotland. Gold traces were first found on this property by a friend, William Campbell, in March 1850, although news of the find was concealed. James Esmond was later shown the site of the find.[1] Like Edward Hargreaves, who was involved in NSW’s first gold strike, he was one of the few men in Australia who had some experience of gold-bearing quartz reefs as he, like Hargreaves, had been on the Californian goldfields. Esmond’s tests verified the existence of the reefs and his findings were announced in the Geelong Advertiser on 7 July 1851, thereby initiating Victoria’s first gold rush.

Individual prospectors found the reefs too deep, so major production only proceeded under the auspices of large companies using the latest equipment and skilled Cornish miners. The first was the Port Phillip and Colonial Gold Mining Company which, in 1857, struck a deal that gave them the exclusive right to mine some of Cameron’s privately-owned land. The company in turn employed a syndicate of local miners to work in the underground mine. By 1873, gold mining at Clunes was in the hands of several businesses; the most prominent were the Port Phillip, New North Clunes, South Clunes, Criterion and United mining companies.

In late 1873, there were acrimonious industrial disputes over working conditions at both the South Clunes Mine and the Lothair Mine. For reasons that are unclear, each company proposed to increase miners’ individual working hours from eleven to twelve shifts per fortnight. In early September, management at the South Clunes mine told their workers that new contracts would not be accepted unless they agreed to work a Saturday afternoon shift. On Monday 15 September, the management at the neighbouring Lothair mine announced that the contract system was to be abolished and two extra shifts (Sunday night and Saturday afternoon) introduced. The intended changes were considerable. Mines in the region mostly shut down at 1 pm each Saturday (a few in Clunes ran until 3 pm) and did not start up again until 7 am on Monday, although the two mines wanted shifts to run until 11 pm on Saturday, and from 10 pm on Sunday. For this extra work, South Clunes offered its employees a small wage increase, while Lothair proposed to put its miners on contract and pay only for work performed. The miners offered to extend working hours until 3 pm on Saturdays, but wanted new wages to be negotiated. Management would not budge.

On Friday 5 September, a section of the miners of the South Clunes mine went out on strike. 110 miners at the Lothair mine downed tools on Monday September 15 bringing the total number of strikers to 150. The outraged response of the miners and their families to management’s violation of Clunes custom that included the Saturday afternoon off, was summed up by ‘A Miner’s Wife, One of the Union’, who wrote to the Ballarat Courier. She could name more than a dozen miners who had fallen victim to ‘the foul air of the Clunes mines’. Some impoverished wife and children

...have been obliged to leave the district...with bleeding hearts at being torn from the remains of the beloved one who had made this earth their paradise...Directors, not satisfied with the old process of slowly poisoning our husbands, seem determined of making it both wholesale and rapid.

The dispute seems to have been compounded by work conditions in the Lothair mine that was poorly ventilated. Some miners wanted it fixed. An Old Miner wrote that he had, ‘through foul air’ in the Clunes mines, been ‘laid aside, and many are in their graves’. The Lothair mine, he wrote,

...has only one shaft, no means of ventilation, and in case of water breaking in...they have no means of escape...allow me to urge my brother miners not to allow anything to induce them to resume work till some means are set on foot for the preservation of their lives.

clunes3.jpg (59882 bytes)

The immediate outcome of the strike was the formation of the Clunes Miners’ Association and the town’s mayor, William Blanchard, a former miner, was elected the association’s president and charged with handling negotiations. The South Clunes mine backed down after several weeks, but the directors of the Lothair Gold Mining Company did not waver. The company tried to break the strike by obtaining European miners from Ballarat. An appeal by the Clunes Miners’ Association for Ballarat miners to refuse work was published prominently in the Ballarat Courier. The Ballarat miners did not come either through persuasion or intimidation.

In late October, the directors threatened to employ a team of Chinese who were amenable to working all week and at a reduced wage. On 25 October, a deputation from the Miners’ Association travelled to Ballarat where, assisted by a government interpreter and the Rev. Young[2], a social worker from the Chinese Christian Mission, they spoke with the Chinese community and explained the situation. We do not know what was said at this meeting or who organised it. But the fact that the meeting happened at all shows that, before the riot at least, someone in Ballarat saw through the racist equation of ‘Chinese’ on the one hand and ‘scab labour’ on the other.[3] The following day the directors of the Lothair mine who included James Francis[4], the Premier of Victoria and the wealthy businessman Peter Lalor[5] met and agreed to hire blackleg labour if needed. Matters simmered for another four weeks. By the end of November, the Lothair directors had accepted that the Sunday night shift would not be worked, but refused to give ground on the Saturday afternoon shift. After the failure of negotiations, they convened a meeting of shareholders, who decided to ‘employ Chinese labor at once, in consequence of the refusal of the European miners to work the mine’.

In early December, a number of Chinese labourers were hired by the company’s agent making their way from Ballarat to Creswick over the weekend of 6 and 7 December. News of their imminent departure from Creswick for Clunes was telegraphed through and circulating around the Clunes district almost immediately. Unsurprisingly there were rumours that inflated the number of strike-breakers from 50 to 90 and then 150 persons. The townspeople of Clunes considered this intolerable. They were not just hostile that miners’ livelihoods were endangered: they were angry that a local business would operate on Sundays and feared that others would follow. The Creswick Advertiser, although it refrained from taking sides in the dispute, commented that many people in the region were angered that the sanctity of the Sabbath was to be broken.

Tensions rose further on Monday 8 December. Telegraphs received at Clunes warned that coaches had been hired in Ballarat to transport the strike-breakers and were expected at Creswick later in the day.[6] From there, the Chinese would proceed directly to Clunes to begin work and they were to have an escort of armed police. Blanchard, as town mayor and local Miners’ Association president, sent a bell man around the streets to summon all the town’s 5,000 inhabitants to a public meeting and all other activity, industrial, commercial, agricultural, domestic ceased in Clunes for the day. Miners at the Port Phillip and New North Clunes mines ‘refused to work the afternoon shift, and operations in these and the co-operative mines were entirely suspended.’ In the afternoon, ‘500 men, members of the Miners Association marched around the town, headed by the Clunes Brass Band, and armed with pick-handles, battens, and waddies...’ They stopped before the town hall, several hotels and apparently churches, where speeches were delivered by civic and religious leaders: those who dared labour on the Sabbath would not enter Clunes. According to the Courier, ‘nearly the whole male population, and a good many women — to say nothing of the boys...’ were in the streets. Ralph Coundon, a director of the Lothair mine, put the company’s position to the assembly before the Royal Hotel. John Pascoe, another director also tried to speak, but he was shouted down, jostled and had his hat pulled over his eyes, so he retreated to the hotel for the afternoon.[7]

In the interim, the mayor of Creswick, who had spent the morning in Clunes, returned to his own town, where he found that five Cobb coaches had arrived and were preparing to depart with 45 Chinese passengers, along with Samuels, a company director and an escort of twelve troopers from Ballarat. The party was led by Sergeant Larner from Ballarat, who was responsible for supervising the Chinese encampment there. The mayor and Sergeant Cooper, the Creswick district policeman, spoke with Sergeant Larner, McPhee of Cobb & Co and Samuels of the Lothair mine, advising them that it was unwise to proceed that afternoon owing to public unrest at their destination. A telegram also arrived from Superintendent Hill, who had gone on ahead to Clunes and who ordered the coaches to delay. It was, he believed, better to leave at first light and get into town as people were getting up.

Back in Clunes, the townspeople made preparations as night fell. Meetings of the miners resolved to discontinue work in all mines and to order some men working at Lothair in defiance of the Miners’ Association to stop work. The town fire bell was rung, and 200 miners marched to the Lothair claim. Cages were lowered to the bottom level, the lift engine disabled, planks bolted across the shafts, ladders removed from the site, gates padlocked, and a picket line established. A shed that had been erected to house the blacklegs was pulled down. Lookouts and mounted scouts were also despatched along the main road, and all tracks, running to Creswick and Ballarat. A team of men went out to the toll gate on the Creswick road, which they took over and locked. Expecting a confrontation, most men armed themselves with sticks, while the town’s youth filled their pockets with stones. It was an expectant night. The town’s two fire bells were rung in false alarm after garbled reports were received that the coaches were nearby (in fact, the regular mail coach) and, from midnight onwards, a large body of townsmen roamed from one hill to another, scrambling about in the dark.

The coach party left the Chinese encampment at Creswick at 5 am. It was met part of the way along the road by four mounted troopers from the district ahead, who warned that the toll road was blocked. With Sergeant Larner sitting beside him in the box, McPhee turned the lead coach into the Tourella road and took the party over to the Ballarat road, from where it could drive straight into Clunes without obstruction. News came through at dawn that the coaches and a mounted escort had been sighted and would soon be along the Ballarat road. The fire bells were rung once more, and an estimated 1,000 people rushed en masse up the hill then out along the Ballarat road, stopping at the intersection with Coghill’s Creek Road, adjacent to Short’s farm on the edge of town. Farmers nearby called on the leaders to take their drays, ploughs, harrows, assorted agricultural equipment and some loose lumber to build a barricade, which they hastily did.

They were still piling on rocks when, at around 7 am, the Cobb coaches and police escort drew into sight. McPhee, who was leading with a full team of horses, cracked his whip and bore down upon the miners. The Creswick Advertiser explained

Some primitive barricades of drays and earthwork had been erected...but the great and real barricade was the living acting mass before them. There was a little parley, but it was to no avail. An attempt was made by the police to break through, but the attempt was easily frustrated...

The five coaches were met by ‘a fast and furious storm of stones’ and the occupants huddled behind their belongings as more missiles were flung their way. Sergeant Larner was knocked off one of the coaches by a large stone. Meanwhile one enterprising miner darted forward and determinedly tried to unbuckle the bridle of the lead horse in McPhee’s team. Two policemen, Constable Durack and Sergeant Larner ‘dismounted and sprang on to the top of the barricade and presented — the one a carbine, and the other a horse-pistol — to the breasts of the men’. They ordered the townspeople to stop throwing stones at them and the coaches. Their bold gesture was undermined by an unidentified trooper at the rear, who shouted to the miners, ‘Don’t be frightened, boys,’ calling out that none of the squad had loaded weapons. The Ballarat Star reported a more violent scene: the mounted police ‘charged the crowd with their revolvers drawn.’ Despite these heroics, crowds ‘rushed over the barricades and, surrounding the coaches, struck at them with sticks, threw stones through them at the Chinamen, and drove them far away... and assisted by, who dismounted his horse, clambering onto the barricade. The men, according to the Courier’s correspondent, ‘were quite taken by surprise at the pluck and activity displayed by the women...during the skirmish.’ According to the Star, the women played a prominent role in smashing the windows of the coaches, ‘and pelted the unfortunate Chinamen.’ Mr Bryant, the manager of Lothair, ‘received a blow with a stone’.

On all other points the four newspapers tend to corroborate each other, but on what happened next at the barricade they differ. The Clunes Guardian and Ballarat Star have the crowd throwing stones at the coaches and police without break. The Creswick Advertiser and Ballarat Courier stated that the volley eventually halted and pious speeches started up in which it seems the police, the coachmen, the mine manager, the company directors present and the Chinese were regaled for threatening the livelihoods of decent family men. In the meantime, the crowd swelled by hundreds as more residents and their families flocked to the barricade. Around forty minutes after it began, the confrontation was over. One of the mounted troopers, Senior Constable Carden, announced that the coaches would withdraw. An intimidated McPhee ordered his drivers to turn back for Ballarat, with the crowd giving three hearty cheers as the party disappeared from sight. Meanwhile, Pascoe, the unpopular company director, who had been jostled, pelted with sods of earth and threatened at the barricade, was escorted back to his hotel by a policeman, more sods being tossed his way by children as he hastened off. By 8.30 am the barricade had been dismantled and components returned to the owners, glass shards from the smashed windows of the coaches swept off the dusty road, and, led by the Clunes Brass Band, the demonstrators were parading back to the Town Hotel. The miners,

...accompanied by troops of women and children proceeded to the residences of several miners who had rendered themselves continuing work...Warnings were given those offending men to leave the town...

They then marched to Mr Bryant’s home to demand his resignation as mine manager. However, some of the men claimed consideration for Bryant’s family’ and Bryant assured them that ‘he had all along been opposed to bringing Chinamen’. He was allowed to stay.

An outdoor meeting was held in the evening attended by 800 and 1,000 people, up to one in three of the town’s population. There were more speeches, starting with William Blanchard, who declared that justice had been served. Then a resolution to be sent to the government that expressed their ‘utter abhorrence at the conduct of those persons, with whom the heavy responsibility rests, in having attempted to subject our prosperous and hitherto irreproachable town to the moral pollution and attendant horrors of a Chinese encampment’, affirming the town’s opposition to the introduction of Chinese labour and criticising the police for their role. It was drafted by Rolfe, a community leader and endorsed by the meeting. There followed an address by Philipps, the local Member of the Legislative Assembly, who congratulated the miners for driving off the strike-breakers, praised the townspeople for their restraint, thanked other mines for supporting the action (at this the crowd gave three cheers), and criticised the authorities for intervening in a labour dispute. Bryant, the manager of the Lothair mine, again declared that he was never in favour of the company’s changes and offered to donate £50 to the Clunes hospital. The day ended with the 800 members of the new Miners’ Association marching five abreast through the town behind the brass band, and triumphantly singing ‘God Save the Queen’. A further meeting was held on Saturday 13 December that reiterated opposition to the Chinese labourers and the actions of the police.[8] Like the English bread riots described by E.P. Thompson, the Clunes riot was not the work of a lawless, aimless mob. [9] There was obviously a high level of organisation: mounted scouts on the roads, and meetings to decide the course of action. More particularly, there was a high level of civic organisation, for example the use of the town fire bell as an alarm. Respect for property, consideration of Bryant’s family, the singing of ‘God Save the Queen’ marked the event as a patriotic gathering of Britons doing no more than upholding their constitutional rights. The march around town headed by the brass band was a regular event in Clunes public life, featuring on fete days for friendly societies.

It was not the end of the affair. In early evening, a squad of fifteen armed constables arrived from Ballarat, setting up a guard-post at the mine and re-establishing peace in the town.[10] Five of the more rowdy protesters, Thomas Nelson, William Pearce, Bernard Began, Joseph Tonkin and Martin Grady were soon charged with obstructing police and each fined £5 by the district magistrate later in the month.[11] The Victorian Solicitor-General also wrote to Blanchard on 19 December asking him to account for his actions and querying whether he had abused his mayoral office on the day of the incident.[12] Then there was the matter of which government authority had despatched the troopers. Although the Maryborough & Dunolly Advertiser did not carry a report on the trouble at nearby Clunes, it ran a Bible-thumping editorial on the immorality of policemen the following Friday. A fortnight later the Clunes Guardian reported that an official investigation by the Governor of Victoria had failed to determine who authorised the escort of armed police though many in the district suspected James Francis, the Premier of protecting his business interests.

There was also considerable, generally unsubstantiated, gossip. ‘We are glad to report,’ the Creswick Advertiser assured its readers the day after, ‘that with the exception of the damage to the coaches, the injuries were small and unimportant.’[13] Nevertheless, the same piece expressed concern that ‘rumours of all kinds, and of the most alarming nature, were meanwhile circulating’, among them claims that the troopers had been escorting 150 Chinese labourers; that the mayor had refused to read the Riot Act to the protesters; that Sergeant Larner had been pelted with bricks, knocked from his horse and nearly killed; that up to thirty police had been mobbed by the protesters and were gravely wounded; that led by Mrs Bailey, a pillar of respectability and wife of a mine manager, the leading matrons of the town were responsible for hurling yonnies[14]; and that one miner (whose identity kept changing) had heroically stood his ground when Sergeant Larner put a pistol against his chest and threatened to shoot. Only hours after the confrontation, the Ballarat Evening Post reported that

...a party of Chinese were proceeding to Clunes by coach when they were met by a number of the wives and children of the disaffected miners, who stuck up the coach, upset it, and chased the Chinamen from the field.

Such gossip had enormous reach. In the Ovens & Murray Advertiser the following morning it was reported that miners opposed to Chinese labour had ‘attacked the police’ at Clunes, while the day after that the Bendigo Advertiser reported that there had been bloodshed at the incident ‘though happily not of a fatal character’ and that miners’ wives ‘took a prominent part in the unfortunate affair.’ However, the Argus by mid-December appeared to have taken a more critical stance towards the disturbances calling them’ disgraceful’ on 20 December. Brief accounts were soon carried in the telegraphic section of inter-colonial newspapers. For example, the Brisbane Courier Mail carried news on consecutive mornings

Melbourne. December 10. A great riot took place today at Clunes. Two thousand (2000) diggers attacked one hundred and fifty (150) Chinamen who had been engaged by the Lothian Company and were under police escort. The diggers drove them back, and wounded the sergeant of police.[15]

Melbourne. December 11. An increased force of the police has been sent to Clunes, but the Chinese refuse to return to their claims.[16]

The myth of a large-scale race riot was already spreading. By Saturday, the popular Sydney weekly the Town & Country Journal, that claimed a sizeable circulation through rural NSW, was likewise reporting that there had been a violent clash between miners and a ‘gang’ of 150 Chinese labourers at Clunes.

The Argus printed a letter from the Clunes miners on 19 January 1874 in which they outlined their reasons for the dispute with the Lothair Company concluding with

Upon the Clunes outrage, as it is called, most miners acknowledge that the officers of the law must be respected and that it is especially necessary to their interests that the laws should be impartially administered...[17]

However, the newspaper felt it necessary to add an editorial postscript.

We insert this letter on the principle of hearing both sides, but it really does not touch the point at issue. That point is not whether the Clunes miners or the Lothair directors were right as to the ground of quarrel, but whether the quarrel is to be fought out by lawful means or by violence and intimidation.

The dispute at the Lothair mine was finally settled through discussions between the directors of the company and the Miners’ Association and the miners returned to work on 4 February 1874.[18]


In 1994, the Sydney Daily Mirror headlined an historical feature on the Clunes riot of 1873: ‘White Australia Policy sprang from workers’ uprising’.[19] The mythology of White Australia was based on the fear of large-scale Chinese immigration during the gold rushes that had alerted working class people to see Chinese people as a danger and all classes increasingly agreed that the white-working class had to be protected from Asian immigration. In the labourist version of this myth, White Australia was seen as the product of a class struggle between pastoralists and sugar planters, who wanted to exploit ‘cheap coloured labour’ and the working people who fought to stop them. It is the working-class that imposed the policy against exploitative employers.

There is little direct evidence in newspaper reports immediately after the disturbance at Clunes that the protesters attacked the Chinese labour on racial grounds. Of more immediate importance was the impact that the successful employment of Chinese labour could have had on the living standards of miners. However, it was a short step from seeing Chinese labour as an attempt to dilute the position of European workers to a discourse in which the language of racism played a central role. What was significant about the incident at Clunes was not the ‘incident’ itself but the ways in which Australia as a whole ‘experienced’ the event through the press. After the event, a struggle between employer and employees was then reported and became part of an anti-Chinese crusade.

[1] Cranfield, Louis R., ‘James William Esmond (1822-1890)’, ADB, Vol. 4, 1972, p. 142, is a useful, if brief, biography. See also, Cranfield, Louis R., ‘The first discovery of gold in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Journal, Vol. 31, (1960), pp. 86-96, and ibid, Sutherland, Alexander, Victoria and its Metropolis: Past and Present, Vol. 1, pp. 296-323, on the early discoveries. Ibid, Flett, J., The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria, and ibid, Bate, Weston, Victorian gold rushes are broader.

[2] Chan, Adrian, ‘Young Wai, John (1847?-1930)’, ADB, Vol. 12, pp. 602-603.

[3] Contrary to many accounts, the Ballarat Chinese heeded the Clunes miners’ call and did not scab on their strike. The newspaper reports quoted various telegrams to the Clunes Miners Association as saying that there were 80 Chinese coming from Ballarat ‘by way of Creswick’, or that 150 Chinese were coming from Creswick. The people who knew most about where the Chinese were brought from were those who organised the strike-breaking operation: Lothair management and the police. In correspondence about who was meant to foot the bill for the Cobb & Co. coaches used at Clunes, both parties repeatedly state that the Chinese came from Creswick. The miners’ union had some influence in the Golden Point camp but did not seem to have similar influence in the Creswick Chinese camp, the source of the Chinese strike-breakers that was more segregated from the town. The threat of Chinese strike-breakers had been used to discipline European miners in Creswick in 1872, when discontent flared over the extension of the Saturday night shift by two and a half hours.

[4] Bartlett, Geoffrey, ‘Francis, James Goodall (1819-1884)’, ADB, Vol. 4, pp. 211-213.

[5] Turner, Ian, ‘Lalor, Peter (1827-1889)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 50-54.

[6] Argus, 9 December 1873, p. 7.

[7] Argus, 19 December 1873, p. 5.

[8] Argus, 15 December 1873, p. 8.

[9] Thompson, E. P., ‘The Moral Economy of the Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, Vol. 50, (1971), pp. 76-136, reprinted in his Customs in Common, (Merlin Press), 1991, pp. 185-259, with ‘The Moral Economy Reviewed’, pp. 259-351.

[10] Argus, 11, December 1873, p. 5; 12 December 1873, p. 5.

[11] Summons were issued on 22 December, Argus, 22 December 1873, pp. 4-5 and the five men were tried on 23 December, Argus, 24 December 1873, p. 5.

[12] For the letter and Blanchard’s response, see Argus, 21 January 1874, p. 6.

[13] Creswick Advertiser, 10 December 1873, p. 2.

[14] This is Australian slang for casually throwing small rocks or stones.

[15] Brisbane Courier Mail, 11 December 1873, p. 2.

[16] Brisbane Courier Mail, 12 December 1873, p. 2.

[17] Argus, 19 January 1874, p. 5.

[18] Clunes Guardian, 5 February 1874, Argus, 6 February 1874, p. 5.

[19] Daily Mirror (Sydney), 30 September 1994.