Thursday, 24 December 2015

Arresting the arsonists

The burning of the Eureka Hotel marked a precipitous deterioration in the relationship between the Ballarat diggers and the authorities and the unplanned riot showed diggers just how effective their numerical superiority could be. Rede ordered the arrest of the men who led the mob, a difficult task because there was no clear idea how the riot had started or who instigated it. A few people were arrested and all but three were able to provide alibis. An American, Albert Hurd, had also been arrested but he was released despite depositions against him that suggested he played an active role in the destruction of the hotel. Hotham commented on the list of those arrested on suspicion of having been involved in the riot: ‘Read. I Regret to find so few Ringleaders arrested.’ [1] As a result, it was only Andrew McIntyre, Thomas Fletcher and Henry Westerby who were charged, despite contradictory evidence, with causing the riot. [2] This incensed Ballarat’s diggers who felt that the prisoners were being made scapegoats to satisfy the authorities’ desire for retribution.

At the committal of McIntyre and Fletcher on Saturday 21 October, Assistant-Commissioner Johnston said that bail would not be granted and the accused were committed for trial in Geelong on 26 October. Westerby was not committed for trial in Melbourne until a week later. However, the diggers argued that if Bentley could be bailed on a charge of murder, then they could be on a lesser charge.[3] The crowd moved to Bakery Hill for an unplanned meeting where some wanted to destroy the Camp, a situation prevented by the intervention of Henry Holyoake, formerly a London Chartist. Violence was avoided when bail of £500 was negotiated with Camp officials and the crowd then dispersed to the sound of pistol shots that accidentally wounded one man in his side. However, when the delegates went to the Camp again, they found that bail had been increased to £2,000; the Argus commented:

Now, supposing that there were good grounds for the arrangements as they at present exist, why was the promise made at all? The authorities are reduced to the necessity of acknowledging either that, as usual, they are premature in their decisions, or that they have adopted the principle that no faith is to be kept: with the heretics who disbelieve the doctrine of Government irresponsibility, unlimited official power and administrative spotlessness.

Hotham thought that the incident was the result of a few irresponsible troublemakers who temporarily swayed the sensible and law-abiding majority. He recognised that this dangerous minority must be isolated and dealt with firmly and informed Rede to take a strong stance against diggers for riotous behaviour and if they assembled for violent and illegal purposes. Hotham backed this up by reinforcing the strength of the Camp. Additional police arrived on 19 October and were followed shortly afterwards by a further 450 troops of the 40th Regiment and on 25 October a detachment of the 12th Regiment newly arrived from England. [4]

On Sunday 22 October, many of Ballarat’s Catholics met after Mass to protest at the treatment of Father Smyth’s servant and the arrack on the Church. [5] Peter Lalor and Thomas Kennedy stirred up the diggers and it decided that, the following day, Timothy Hayes, their representative would lead a delegation to Commissioner Rede. The delegation found that Constable Lord had already been moved from Ballarat to Melbourne although it wanted the same treatment for Johnston. Led by Hayes and John Manning, many Catholics met on Wednesday 25 October to learn the outcome of the deputation to Rede, and resolved to petition Hotham for a retrial of Gregorius and the removal of Johnston. In Melbourne, however, the whole affair was dismissed by the Chief Commissioner and the Colonial Secretary. Hotham was impressed by the Catholic petition and, although he did not think that Johnston was to blame for the situation, he nonetheless thought that it might be ‘politic’ to move him from Ballarat. This might have calmed the situation but Johnston was not moved and Catholics remained alienated by the actions of the Camp. [6]

[1] PROV, 1189/P Unit 153: J54/12469, dated 6 November 1854. It listed ten men arrested: Manastra Flatow, Samuel Butler, John Balderstone, George McIntosh, Charles Stewart and John Nanderbyle had charges dismissed on 26 and 27 October; Albert Hurd was also committed for trial at Melbourne on 15 November.
[2] Lazarus was present when Fletcher was arrested and at his subsequent trial: SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 25 October 1845, pp. 97-104, 22 November 1854, p. 114.
[3] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 25 October 1854, p. 4.
[4] Ballarat Times, 28 October 1854, commented acidly on this: ‘This verdant impastation, parcelled up in red padding, is to vegetate on the hill to the west of the township, commanding a view of the flat, which last summer was used as a cricket ground’. See also, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 21 October 1854, p. 4.
[5] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 25 October 1854, p. 4.
[6] PROV 1189/P Unit 92, J54/12201.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Predicting change 2015-2016

Looking back on 2015, the ‘Ed stone’ seems to sum up the state of British politics during the year…it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Whether it was the  attempt thwarted by the House of Lords to reduce the scale of tax credits or promising a referendum on the EU or the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party ‘by an overwhelming mandate’ (as we are continually and increasingly boringly being told), it has been the year of the political cock-up…yes I know most years are but this has been one of spectacularly bad ideas.  Take tax credits.  If the Chancellor had introduced his changes in a finance bill, then he would still have faced opposition in the Lords but the legislation would have passed as it would have been a ‘money bill’.  Given that he knew the Conservatives no longer had a majority in the Lords, it beggars belief why an individual with the Machiavellian skills of George Osborne tried to get the measure through as a Statutory Instrument…it is true that the Lords normally nodded through secondary legislation but there is no convention saying that they could not reject them…a case of poor advice and vaulting hubris I suspect. 
Jeremy Corbyn

I suspect that many of those who ‘lent’ Jeremy Corbyn their nominations so that there was a left-wing candidate on the ballot paper are kicking themselves now.  No one expected that he would win… I do wish I’d placed £100 on him to win when the odds were 100/1!!!  But clearly it was a case that ‘The Force was with him’ aided by an electoral system where anyone who paid £3, whether they were Labour party supporters or not, could vote in the election.  Having lost the 2015 General Election because of Ed’s perceived left-wing credentials, the Labour Party then took a leap to the left with the beginnings of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of those no longer seen to have the populist purity of the party’s historic principles.  The problem with this is that when Labour has elected leaders with openly oppositionist principles in the past—I’m thinking of George Lansbury in the 1930s, Michael Foot in the 1980s—it had proved electorally disastrous and exposed the ideological divisions within the Party.

Something that is also evident within the Conservative Party over Europe.  Having already enshrined in law that there would be a referendum over future treaty change, under the perceived threat posed by UKIP and his own Euro-sceptics, David Cameron decided that a referendum over changes he proposed to negotiate with the other EU states.  With the continuing crisis over the Euro and the massive migrations of peoples into the EU in the summer and early autumn—neither of which have had a significant impact on the UK—you might have thought that David would be in a strong position.  Well no.  There is no likelihood of changes to the central tenet of the free movement of people within the EU or over discrimination of EU citizens by imposing a four year ban on in-work welfare benefits.  The Prime Minister’s hope was that if he could get agreement on his ‘four points’, he could sell this to an increasingly sceptical public—the poll published today gives 47 per cent in favour of Brexit. 

David Cameron

Jeremy Corbyn and the referendum will remain central political issues throughout 2016.  Although EU Council President Donald Tusk has called for a ‘serious debate with no taboos’ about Mr Cameron's demands, it is clear that unless the ways benefits are paid to British citizens is changed to take account of the ways they operate in many EU countries he will not get agreement across the EU for benefit changes.  This will inevitably weaken what he will achieve and what he will be able to present to the country.  What politicians seem not to acknowledge..and this was something that was evident when I campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote in 1975 and in my experience has not changed…is that people’s views of the EU are emotional as much and arguably more than political.  The problem for those who want to stay in is that those leading the campaigns have little credence amongst ordinary voters…in fact what you need is a single campaign with a single charismatic leader who can get the message across in straightforward terms…and that is not what is currently the case. 

For Jeremy, the current situation is unsustainable.  Although Labour claimed victory over tax credits and maintaining police numbers, there is little to suggest that the Labour leadership in the Commons had much to do with this.  It was the Conservative minority in the Lords that led to victory over welfare payments and the massacre in France that made reducing police numbers politically unsustainable.  There is little or no opposition in the House of Commons and little evidence that Jeremy had any significant control over his own MPs.  In the short term, this may not matter as the next election is over four years away.  But, there is a strong sense of a rudderless party increasing buffeted by left-wing pressures beyond the hallowed halls and, despite the rhetoric, of increasingly vicious and internecine struggles at constituency level.  To be effective, political parties need to be led, not a discussion group for weighing contrary arguments.  In both the referendum campaign and within the Labour Party, what is needed is effective leadership, something that both currently lack. 

Walking into the middle of the road might seem a good idea at the time…the problem is that you will eventually get hit by vehicles coming from both sides!!

Monday, 14 December 2015


This, the second volume looks at northern England covering Yorkshire and the North-East in Chapter 6, Cheshire, Lancashire and the North-West in Chapter 7 and at Scotland, Wales and Ireland respectively in Chapter 8, 9 and 10. It also includes the synoptic concluding chapter. Newcastle, Sunderland and their industrial and mining communities have been neglected by scholars who often mean Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire when they speak of 'the North'. Yet Chartism in Cumberland, Northumberland and Durham had a stridency and vehemence in 1838 and 1839 that was also evident in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Yorkshire and the North-East is the subject of Chapter 6. Northern England-regarded by most historians as forming the bedrock of Chartism and the heart of industrialisation-was dominated by textiles, iron-making and coal mining, industries that produced a greater sense of class-consciousness and class-conflict and where the human cost of economic change, Disraeli's 'Two Nations', was at its starkest.

Chapter 7 considers Cheshire, Lancashire and the North-West, an area that contained the bulk of cotton manufacture where technological change brought increasing distress to its hand weavers. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 consider Chartism in Scotland, Wales and Ireland and the Isle of Man. With its radical traditions and urbanising and industrialising economy, Chartism proved an important force in Scottish politics in the 1830s and 1840s. Wales too has its own political traditions and like Scotland there was also substantial industrial and urban development that allowed a concentration of radical politics particularly in South and West Wales . Unlike Scotland, there was rebellion in Wales at Newport in November 1839-perhaps the best known of all Chartist events-and its failure played an important role in how physical force was regarded in the decade that followed. Unlike the strikes in 1842, whose relationship to the national movement was tangential other than in mid-August, it was the only major direct action that can be regarded as fully 'Chartist' in character. The relationship of Chartism to Ireland was one of bifurcation-there was Chartism in Ireland and there was Chartism among those Irish who had emigrated to the mainland. In Ireland, Chartism found itself in competition for support from middle- and working-classes from Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association and the later Confederate Clubs associated with 'Young Ireland'. Faced with these mass organisations, it is unsurprising that Chartism's impact was limited and geographically concentrated in a few major towns. On the mainland the Irish impact on Chartism was significantly greater, if only because of Feargus O'Connor's role as the primary leader. It was once assumed that the Irish played a marginal role within Chartism until the late 1840s but we now take a less sanguine view of O'Connell's ability to control the Irish in Britain and a more positive view O'Connor and other Irish national and local leaders. Chartism and Ireland collided in the climactic events of 1848 with Irish Confederate leaders seeing the Chartist agitation as a means through which troops could be held back in Britain while they led what provided to be less a revolution than a skirmish while the often conspiratorial nature of Irish radicalism was evident in the Chartist insurrectionary plans in June, July and August.
The book ends with discussion of people, places, classes and spaces. It considers the question of 'who were the Chartists?' and the difficulties in identifying who they were and why they became Chartists and how far class played a part in this process. It also examines Chartism within its geographical context drawing on points made in the regional chapters. Finally, it looks at the whole question of radical spaces and how these spaces were created and contested.
Publication Date: December 13 2015
ISBN/EAN13: 1517788986 / 9781517788988
Page Count: 424
Related Categories: History / Europe / Great Britain / General

Monday, 7 December 2015

Burning Bentley’s hotel


Johnston believed that an injustice had occurred in the Scobie case and had forwarded a copy of the depositions to William Stawell, the Attorney-General in Melbourne. But even before any official action could be taken, the diggers dealt with the matter in their own way. Word of events at Ballarat was spreading and diggers at Bendigo held a meeting supporting the Ballarat miners. Ill-feeling was still running high when a mass meeting was called for Tuesday 17 October near where Scobie died. [1] Inspector Gordon Evans, who had made inquiries as to the exact object of the meeting commented shortly after the riot: ‘I could not learn from any person that any serious outrage was contemplated’. The meeting began quietly around noon. [2] A Committee for the Prosecution of the Investigation into the Death of James Scobie was elected by diggers and instructed to frame a petition to the Governor and also to campaign for the arrest of Scobie’s murderers. One member of this committee was Peter Lalor who had worked the claim next to Scrobie. He had played no part in previous protest meetings but the murder of his friend overcame his reluctance. The meeting was orderly and Evans later commented:

The speeches…were not in the slightest degree objectionable…and the speakers endeavoured to impress on the people the necessity of preserving peace and order.

Charles Doudiet Burning of Bentley’s Hotel, a sketch

Nonetheless when it broke up around 2.30 pm groups of diggers made their way to Bentley’s hotel and as the crowd grew, its mood became increasingly angry and excitable. The Argus suggested:

What with ill-concealed discontent at the rigid enforcement of the license tax, and what with a variety of wrongs and cruelties unwittingly resulting there from, men’s minds are now in such a state that they are almost ripe for anything…It is thought that the meeting will be stormy in debate and perhaps hasty and unwarranted in its excesses and conclusions. The police will be present in full force. [3]

The Argus later commented:

It is a matter of speculation whether the meeting would have dispersed peaceably had this course not been taken by the authorities. [4]

Rede had not contemplated trouble, despite warnings from Bentley the previous day [5] and was at the Eureka Camp when news of the riot reached him. [6] He quickly joined Evans and Commissioner John Green, to observe proceedings but:

…all the available force of police and mounted troopers were on guard at the Hotel, and made a very injudicious display of their strength. Not only did they follow, but ride through the crowd of people at the meeting; and it is to this display of their strength we attribute the fire and other outbursts and works of indignation. [7]

The crowd clearly angered by the large police presence and by the flight of Bentley to the Camp, threw stones smashing all the hotel’s windows and finally ransacked it without the police intervening. Evans, who witnessed the event, wrote:

He [Bentley] was seen almost immediately and with a yell of rage the diggers pursued him. – He rushed past me in his flight and I think I never saw such a look of terror on a man’s face.

Green had not read the Riot Act when Rede arrived and tried to pacify the people but was the target of a hail of missiles and was shouted down. The Act remained unread. Assistant-Commissioner Gilbert Amos was favourably heard but a cry of ‘fire’ was heard, as smoke appeared from one of the ground floor rooms. The police managed to extinguish it and attempted to establish a cordon round the hotel but without success. [8] The Argus concluded:

Had the people supported them at all, that would have had the effect of stopping the fire, for the simple reason, that the fire was put out several times during the time they were there, in some places, but set fire to in others. [9]

The rear of the hotel was by now ablaze and the fire had spread to adjacent buildings. The majority of the crowd, now swelled to between 8,000 and 10,000, dispersed once the hotel had been turned into ‘a mass of burning embers’. Soldiers and police retired to the Government Camp where, according to the Ballarat Times, ‘it was seriously believed an attack would be made in the night time by the miners’ perhaps to remove Bentley by force’ remarking:

We have never witnessed a more terrible demonstration of popular feeling, never seen an instance when the offended Majesty of a Sovereign people was so powerfully, so tangibly asserted, as on yesterday afternoon at the Eureka Hotel. By this one instance of popular wrath, the Government may see what an offended people could, would, and may do. [10]

The authority of the Camp had been flouted; Rede had made a fool of himself in trying to quieten the crowd; the police had shown themselves to be ineffective and, according to Evans, were ‘laughed at’; and, the military had taken little part in the affair, refused to help put out the flames and then rode away when they thought their presence no longer effective. Although the police had attempted to reassert law and order by arresting two diggers suspected of being responsible for the fire, they were quickly rescued from Evans and his men who returned to the Camp in disarray.

[1] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 25 October 1845, pp. 95-97. Gordon Evans, Inspector of Police Ballarat to Captain MacMahon, Acting Chief Commissioner of Police Melbourne, 17 October 1854: PROV, 937/P Unit 10, 547/54.

[2] ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 23 October 1854, p. 5, provides a detailed account of the initially peaceful meeting and the subsequent burning of the hotel. See also, ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 20 October 1854, p. 4.

[3] Argus, 16 October 1854.

[4] ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 23 October 1854, p. 5.

[5] Bentley to Dewes, 16 October 1854, PROV 1189/P Unit 92, H54/11605: ‘the great probability would be an attack by the whole mob upon me and the House, particularly if intoxication should exist to any extent.’

[6] For Rede’s account of events see, PROV 1189/P Unit 92, J54/12471.

[7] Ballarat Times, 18 October 1854.

[8] Dewes to John Foster, Colonial Secretary, 17 October 1854, PROV 1189/P Unit 92, H54/11605.

[9] Argus, 18 October 1854.

[10] Ballarat Times, 18 October 1854.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

War or War Plus?

Let’s be clear we are already at war with IS and in bombing in Iraq, as well as killing terrorists, we have already almost certainly killed civilians.  Extending that war to Syria is a logical extension across a border that IS does not recognise.  In doing so we will again kill terrorists in the consequent bombing and again almost certainly civilians.  It makes no military sense to stop at the border especially as Britain is already doing reconnaissance flights over Syria.  Is it, as Liam Fox suggests a  ‘national embarrassment’ for Britain to ‘contract out’ our security to our allies?  It all depends where our national interests lie.  Was it right for David Cameron to call those opposed to intervention in Syria as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ David Cameron, something that has not as yet apologised for?  Certainly not, IS is a despicable regime, something even those opposed to war recognise and the issue for them is not one of appeasing IS but with finding a long-term solution to the problem they pose to democratic institutions in the Middle-East  but also in the West. 


Has the Prime Minister made the case for war?  Barely, I think.  Public opinion, if the poll in today’s Times is to be believed is not behind him—though it must be said considerably more behind him than in 2013.  There are also divisions in both Conservative and Labour parties over the question though it is probable that the numbers are with David in Parliament: he would not have risked a vote unless he was fairly confident of winning.  Bombing won’t defeat IS, something recognised by both sides and that ultimately means that ground troops will ne needed.  It is this issue that concerns MPs on both sides of the argument though it is specifically excluded in today’s motion.  Where will these troops come from?  The Prime Minister banded about the 70,000 local troops available to assault IS but this was certainly a case of smoke and mirrors. There may well be 70,000 combatants opposed to IS in Syria, Iraq and Turkey but they are not a coherent force but merely bands of fighters often with diametrically opposed aims, that could be brought to bear on IS.  An effective attack on IS requires coordinated attacks with air power and ground troops working together to push IS back and currently this does not exist.  We have all seen the consequences of previous western ‘crusades’ against states, such as Iraq and Libya whose leaders we disapproved of…we have removed strong despicable leaders only to see them replaced by strong, despicable terrorist groups.  We’re very good at getting rid of ‘bad’ men but we are appalling at finding a stable replacement…now that’s a real ‘national embarrassment’!

Will extending bombing make Britain safer?  Probably not.  Will bombing destroy rather than simply degrade IS?  Certainly not?  Is there a coherent policy for dealing with IS globally?  There needs to be…lots of words certainly but definitely not. 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Chartism and Jeremy Corbyn

The ‘Six Points’ of the People’s Charter is something that I have written about on many occasions in the last few decades.  They are central to any discussion of Chartism and formed the foundation for what was arguably the most widely supported working-class movement since the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.  Millions of men and women saw in the Charter the solution to their economic, social and political woes.  Although Chartism was deemed a failure by many contemporaries, five of its six points were ultimately translated into law.  That we today have universal suffrage, the secret ballot, paid MPs, single member constituencies and no property qualifications baring anyone from standing for Parliament is a direct result of the Chartist agitation of the 1830s and 1840s.  That annual parliaments—the sixth of the six points—has never been implemented, has been largely forgotten.  Yet it was potentially the most revolutionary of the electoral principle adopted by Chartists and has a particular resonance to the current situation in the Labour Party.

Kennington Common, 10 April 1848

The essence of annual parliaments for Chartists was its participatory nature.  MPs would be elected by their constituents and their actions in Parliament would be closely monitored with, for instance, how they voted and how many sessions they attended would be published in the press.  To keep their seats, MPs would need to consult not just their own supporters but all who could vote in their constituencies regularly to ensure that they represented their opinions.  This did not mean that they were delegates mandated by their electors to vote in particular ways but certainly did mean that they would be held accountable for their actions by those electors.  The link between MPs and their electors would inevitably be more personal, more intimate and more defined. 

Although I suspect that annual parliaments are not part of his thinking, there is much in what Jeremy Corbyn has said in the past suggesting that he favours a more participatory approach to politics, an attempt to push decision-making away from Westminster and placing it more in the hands of the electors.  The Labour leader has sent out a survey to party members asking for their views on bombing IS in Syria and urging them to respond by the start of next week.  He has also told his MPs to go back to their constituencies this weekend and canvas the views of members.  Jeremy's supporters are convinced that his views are closer to Labour’s grassroots than those of dissenting MPs while his opponents suspect him of trying to bypass the parliamentary party and appeal directly to the members who emphatically elected him in September. 

But we do not have a participatory but a representative democratic system—one reason why annual parliaments have never been introduced.  Once elected MPs represent their constituencies as a whole not just the narrow number of activists who may have helped them get elected.  So MPs should not simply be canvassing the views of members, as Jeremy suggests, but seeking the views of electors from across the political spectrum before they make their decision on what is essentially a matter of ‘conscience’.  Even if the notion of a free vote can be seen as the only way Labour can get out of the hole they’ve constructed, when John McDonnell says that MPs should not be ‘whipped or threatened’ and that they should follow their ‘own judgement’ on possible air strikes over Syria, he is restating this long-established principle that there are some issues that are above party politics. 

Friday, 27 November 2015


The question of whether Britain should be involved in bombings inside Syria to confront IS has in some respects been made easier by the massacres in Paris a fortnight ago.  Does IS pose a direct threat to Britain?  Yes.  Should IS be confronted in Syria and Iraq?  Again yes.  Will Britain adding its planes to those already bombing Syria really make a difference?  A marginal effect at best but of far greater symbolic importance.  Did David Cameron make the case for immediate bombing yesterday?  In part I think he did…though he was less clear about how this fitted into plans for defeating IS and he made some grandiloquent statements about the Syrian forces opposed to IS of some 70,000 fighters…I was reminded of Tony Blair’s statements about weapons of mass destruction over a decade ago.   Will bombing make Britain safer?  In the short-term, probably not as there will almost inevitably be consequences. 
Jeremy Corbyn has made his position clear in a letter to Labour MPs.  This will not come as a surprise to his supporters or critics…he has long opposed Britain’s involvement in foreign interventions and has, in most cases, been right in his analysis.  The question is whether as leader of Labour, he has the luxury of putting his own well-established views before what many people see as the necessity for action to stem the threat from IS.  Those critical of his leadership see this as yet another example of the shambolic depths to which Labour has sunk and in a week with the Little Red Book dominating the news rather than Conservative U-turns over tax credits and police funding, the letter simply reinforces their view of him as a liability to both party and country. 
Public opinion has shifted since 2013 when 2:1 were against intervention in Syria—albeit against Assad—to 2.1 in favour…even amongst Labour voters though not amongst the Corbynistas of whom 71 per cent want a free vote on the issues.  The disconnect between the 300,000 activists and the 9 million who voted for Labour in May is very clear.  For MPs, their mandate comes from those who elected them in May rather than the minority of activists and therein lies the problem at the heart of Labour’s dilemma.  The choice appears to be between an activist-based party that lacks the numbers to win an election and Labour voters who are more ‘conservative’ in their views of a range of issues including Trident, welfare and education.  With Labour currently polling at 27 per cent—15 points behind the government—and with public opinion broadly behind bombing, by making clear his stance Jeremy threatens to make the divisions within the Parliamentary Labour Party even worse.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Murder and assault

On the evening of Friday 6 October, James Scobie, a Scot in his late teens and his friend Peter Martin were returning to Eureka after an evening celebrating their reunion. In the early hours of the following morning, they saw a light still burning in the Eureka Hotel and probably hoping to buy more alcohol began banging on the door, but James Bentley, an unpopular ex-convict from VDL and publican of the hotel refused them admission. Both Bentley and his hotel had a bad reputation: ‘The worst characters lived about his place; midnight robberies were frequent, and life and property were not safe’. [1] Many diggers had been cheated and bullied by the hotel’s employees but because it was frequented by a number of goldfield officials, the hotel enjoyed immunity from regulations that applied in other public houses. An angry exchange followed, threats were made and a pane of glass was broken. Scobie and Martin then meandered off towards Scobie’s tent but a few yards from the hotel, heard voices in the darkness behind them and were suddenly attacked, Martin later maintained, by two or three men and a woman identified by other witnesses as Bentley’s wife. Martin was struck and ran off but when he realised that Scobie was not following, returned and found his friend either dead or dying as the result of a brutal blow to the head.[2]

S.T. Gill, Site of Bentley's Hotel - Eureka Ballaarat, 1855

Suspicion immediately fell on Bentley, who was brought before a Coroner’s inquest the following afternoon. Coroner David John Williams selected a jury of twelve men, many of whom had known Scobie to hear the evidence and the depositions presented. During the inquest, the Coroner interrupted the proceedings on a fairly regular basis and many questioned his decision to allow Bentley, to cross-examine the young witness Bernard Welch. Bentley swore that no one left the hotel and was supported by the barman, William Duncan, Thomas Farrell a clerk and Thomas Mooney, Bentley’s night watchman. [3] In his deposition Doctor Alfred Carr, who had conducted a post-mortem forensic examination of Scobie’s body, had concluded that death was caused by internal bleeding caused by a blow to the head and that Scobie’s drunken state would have rendered ‘the blow more dangerous & more likely to cause a rupture of the blood vessels’. However, he thought ‘the injury was inflicted by a kick & not by the spade now produced’. There was also a later suggestion that Carr’s medical evidence contributed to the verdict and that he ‘was a colluding associate of both Dewes and Bently’.[4]

Despite the evidence of witnesses, notably Bernard Welch and his mother Mary Ann Welch who saw or heard Bentley and one of his servants viciously attack Scobie, the jury found that there was insufficient evidence against Bentley and an open verdict was given. There was considerable disquiet about how the proceedings had been conducted and with the verdict and several individuals, including Peter Lalor, formed a committee to investigate further the proceedings of the inquest. This placed pressure on the Ballarat authorities for further inquiries into the circumstances of Scobie’s death, additional evidence was collected resulting in a judicial inquiry presided over by Gold Fields Commissioner Robert Rede, Assistant-Commissioner James Johnston and Police Magistrate John Dewes on 12 October. [5]

Many observers, including Charles Evans, thought Dewes favoured Bentley. It was widely believed that he was part-owner in the Eureka Hotel and his behaviour during the trial led to suspicions of collusion between the prisoners and the Bench. During an adjournment in proceedings Police Constables John Dougherty and Michael Costello observed Bentley entering Dewes’ office where he remained for ten minutes. Dewes was also hostile to prosecution witnesses but courteous to anyone appearing for the defence. Johnston was so uneasy with the proceedings that he disassociated himself from the verdict. Nevertheless, Rede thought the evidence inconclusive and his decision, with that of Dewes led to a majority for acquittal, a decision that could only inflame the situation. [6] In the later petition to the Governor, it was pointed out that the correct procedure in cases where prosecution and defence witnesses contradicted each other, was that the matter should be settled by a jury. [7] Bentley was not without supporters on the goldfield, three witnesses testified that neither Bentley nor his wife left the hotel but all were either Bentley’s employees or lived in the hotel and, according to the Argus were ‘equally liable to suspicion’ and he was discharged with ‘not a shadow of imputation remained on [his] character’. [8] For many diggers, this decision seemed to embody all that was oppressive and corrupt about the Government Camp. Evans commented later in the month:

An act of the basest injustice on the part of the Camp Officials has inflamed the minds of the people to a pitch which will be remembered for a life time. [9]

Of the national groups at Ballarat, the Irish were the most cohesive. It was no coincidence that the wooden Catholic Church was situated on the Gravel Pits, on the edge of the Eureka field where the Irish lived in large numbers. Their spiritual needs were met by the young Irish priest Father Patrick Smyth and his crippled Armenian servant Joannes Gregorius, both of whom were widely admired in the community. Ministers of religion and their servants were exempt from having licenses but on 10 October, James Lord, an inexperienced constable apparently unaware of this demanded to see Gregorius’ license. Gregorius, who spoke little English attempted to explain that he was Smyth’s servant but Lord then dismounted, assaulted him and insulted the priest.

The real grievance seems to be a hasty and improper expression on the part of the Trooper, who is reported to have said ‘I don’t care a damn for you or the Priest.’ [10]

The fiasco was exacerbated when Assistant-Commissioner Johnston, who was riding past, also decided that the servant should have had a license. Yet, upon the arrival of Father Smyth, Johnston accepted £5 bail for the servant’s appearance before the Bench the following day. The Bench imposed a £5 fine on Gregorius for not having a license. However, Johnston realised that no license was required and made a bad situation worse by altering the charge to one of assault on Lord. Despite evidence of witnesses to the contrary, Dewes found the servant guilty as charged and fined him £5. After Mass on 15 October, a meeting of all Catholics was called to discuss the case but it failed to reach a conclusion and decided to meet again a week later on 22 October.

[1] Evidence of William Carroll, a digger and storekeeper reported in Ballarat Times, 13 October 1854.

[2] Argus, 9 October 1854. For depositions given at the inquest see, PROV, 5527/PO, Unit 1, Item 1.

[3] Proceedings before Coroner’s Inquisition, 7 October 1864,

[4] Sgiathanach, ‘Reminiscences of Ballarat’, Tuapeka Times, 17 January 1906, p. 3. See also, the discussion of Carr’s evidence, ‘The Trial of Bentley’, Argus, 20 November 1854, p. 4.

[5] On 20 November 1854, Dewes was dismissed as a magistrate and was subsequently blamed for accepting bribes to issue publicans’ licenses at Ballarat. His criminal activities continued in Victoria, British Columbia where he was appointed Acting Postmaster in 1859 and two years later absconded with £300 of public money. He is believed to have committed suicide in Paris later in 1861.

[6] ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 19 October 1854, p. 5, prints comments written on 12 October: ‘it is thought that the decision (that gave unmistakeable offence to all who heard it) will not be final.’ ‘Ballaarat’, Argus, 23 October 1854, p. 5, includes the petition to Hotham requesting him to institute a new investigate into Scobie’s death.

[7] This position was based on the observations of Lord Denham in his charge to the jury at the Somerset Assizes in 1849, A’Beckett, William, The Magistrates’ Manual for the Colony of Victoria, (Printed and Published at the Melbourne Morning Herald Office), 1852, pp. 21-22.

[8] Ballarat Times, 13 October 1854, contained a testimonial for Bentley that hastened: ‘to express the pleasure and gratification we feel at the just judicial termination of the investigation of that unfortunate affair, and are assured that your urbanity and manly behaviour will still continue to guarantee to so well conducted a house, its full share of public patronage’.

[9] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 25 October 1854, p. 94.

[10] Rede to Foster, 2 November 1854, PROV 1189/P Unit 92, J54/12201.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Mixed messages and choosing the right words

Although comments in today’s Sun criticising Jeremy Corbyn for not being ‘sorry enough’ about the atrocities in Paris last Friday are nonsensical—it’s almost as if a newspaper hardly sympathetic to him is saying that being sorry is not enough you have to be really sorry—his comments today have been, to say the least, ill thought.  His interview of Laura Kuenssberg revisited his attitude to military intervention in Syria on which little was added to his well-established views…what is needed is a diplomatic and political solution to Syria and bombing by Britain will do nothing to achieve this.  It was, however, his statement that he is ‘not happy’ with UK police or security services operating a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy in the event of a terror attack. He also declined to answer what he called the ‘hypothetical question’ of whether he would ever back military intervention against extremists: ‘I'm not saying I would or I wouldn't’, he said. But Mr Corbyn came under attack at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, with Labour MP John Mann saying his niece had found herself trapped in a Paris toilet for three hours ‘thinking she was going to be murdered’. Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs committee, said the shoot-to-kill policy was right and the special services do need that power in extreme circumstances…’We live in dark and dangerous times and the shoot-to-kill policy, specifically aimed at terrorists in a hostage situation, is the right policy given the emergency situation that members of the special services will find themself in.’
Herein lies his problem and why his position as leader of the Labour Party will, I suspect, be short-lived.  Though people will be sympathetic to what he says, many others will find his timing thoroughly offensive.  Given that he repeated these things on Sky and other news outlets, he is clearly positioning himself as the conscience of the country.  That may be a perfectly honourable position to take as an oppositional backbench MP but not as Leader of the Opposition who could, in the future, be responsible for people’s security. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The beginnings of rebellion

It is not fines, imprisonments, taxation and bayonets that is required to keep a people tranquil and content. It is attention to their wants and their just rights alone that will make the miners content. [1]

Ballarat had not played as important a role as Bendigo and Castlemaine in the anti-license campaign in mid-1853 largely because of the prosperity of the goldfield. A year later things had changed. Yields from alluvial mining were declining and although deep lead mining had increased substantially, it usually took six to eight months to sink shafts onto the pay dirt. This meant that diggers were in contact with the same government officials, giving time for personal resentments to grow on both sides. For Blainey, this was the key to understanding why rebellion occurred in 1854.[2] Hotham’s decision to enforce all licensing laws rigorously brought simmering tensions between the diggers and authority to a head. His actions resurrected the simmering grievances of the Ballarat diggers who were experiencing growing poverty, license hunts, the corruption of the police and inadequate public services. [3]

There were growing concerns among officials over the political activities of diggers’ organisations by late 1854. On 9 October, in a confidential memorandum William Wright, the Chief Commissioner of the Goldfields required that a magistrate and two witnesses should attend all public meetings held for political purposes and to note down any seditious language. [4] In addition, police spies began attending diggers’ meetings to collect evidence. Although the revenue collected in the Ballarat District from license fees and storekeepers’ licenses was substantial reaching more than £96,000 by the end of 1854, only a small proportion of diggers and shopkeepers actually paid their fees. For Hotham, this represented a clear breach of the law as well as reducing potential revenue. [5] Hotham was rightly concerned by developing political agitation in Ballarat and, during October, the Ballarat Reform League emerged from a series of meetings and was officially launched at Bakery Hill on Saturday 11 November. By the end of November, Rede had concluded that the Eureka District was the centre of radical activity. What is extraordinary about events in Ballarat was the pace at which the situation deteriorated from resentment to open defiance to rebellion. Yet the signs were there in early October:

There are breakers ahead. If Sir Charles manages to avoid the reefs by which he is surrounded, he will prove himself a pilot of no mean ability. For the last week or so, the spirit of dissatisfaction has been rapidly increasing, and, unless a change for the better be speedily brought about, Ballarat, I fear me may soon cease to be worthy of praise from the lips of the Governor in matters of loyalty.[6]

[1] Ballarat Times, 28 October 1854.

[2] Ibid, Blainey, Geoffrey, The Rush that Never Ended, pp. 50-52.

[3] Walshe, R. D., ‘Bibliography of Eureka’, Historical Studies: Eureka Supplement, (December 1954), pp. 81-91, provides a summary of available primary and secondary material up to 1954. Of the myriad studies of Eureka, Gold, Geoffrey, Eureka: Rebellion beneath the Southern Cross, (Rigby Limited), 1977; ibid, MacFarlane, Ian, (ed.), Eureka From the Official Records, Fitzsimons, Peter, Eureka: The Unfinished Revolution, (Random House), 2013, and Molony, John, Eureka, (Melbourne University Press), 1984, 2nd ed., (Melbourne University Press), 2001, are the most useful. Of the earlier studies, Turner, Henry Gyles, Our Own Little Rebellion: The Story of the Eureka Stockade, (Whitcombe & Tombs Limited), 1913, retains its vigour.

[4] Blake, L. J., ‘William Henry Wright, (1816-1877), ADB, Vol. 6, pp. 444-445.

[5] ‘Letter of the Editor: Digger Hunting at Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 10 October 1854, p. 5, demonstrates the depth of feeling against the intensity and severity of license fee collection.

[6] ‘Ballarat’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 11 October 1854, p. 4.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

J.H. Whitley (1866-1935)



In association with


At 6.15 p.m. on WEDNESDAY 4th NOVEMBER


Dr John Hargreaves, Chairman of Halifax Civic Trust will speak on


J.H. Whitley (1866-1935):

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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Now Mr Editor!



I’ve been preparing books for Stephen Roberts for publication in his Birmingham Biographies series over the past year.  The complete series (so far) is list on my website.  This is Stephen’s most recent book, published today, that explores letters sent to the editors of Birmingham’s newspapers during the nineteenth century.


‘Now, Mr Editor!  I should very much like to know who is to blame …’

Birmingham Journal, 24 February 1838.

This book was inspired by one letter to a newspaper.   In January 1842 a correspondent to one of the Birmingham newspapers expressed his view that police constables, when they had nothing else to do, should be instructed to clear the foot paths of snow. From this unintentionally amusing letter grew this project, which collects together over sixty letters published in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette and the Birmingham Journal from 1820 to 1850.  Correspondents wrote in to their newspapers to complain about prostitution, bull-baiting, the state of their streets, the shortcomings of their police constables, the cost and comfort of railway travel and that most dangerous preacher George Dawson.  Taken together these letters provide a fascinating insight into life in Birmingham in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The letters are accompanied Eliezer Edwards’ splendid essay describing Birmingham in the late 1830s.  This essay has been edited, and extensive footnotes provide much detail about the people and places mentioned by Edwards.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Making a bad situation worse: Hotham and gold licenses

In his early weeks, Hotham spent time getting acquainted with Victoria. In August, accompanied by Lady Hotham he ventured to the goldfields to observe conditions, and in his three days at Ballarat found the diggers to be respectful, loyal and enthusiastic. [1] The Ballarat Times optimistically reported:

A bold, vigorous and far-seeing man has been amongst us, and the many grievances and useless restrictions by which a digger’s success is impeded will be swept away. [2]

At Geelong on 15 August, Hotham spoke of the need for government borrowing to finance public works and said that his review of spending would not result in such works being curbed describing rumours that it would as ‘twaddle’. He referred to Victorian’s new constitution saying that it was based on the principle that power came from the people, a principle that would guide his administration.

I stand between two systems of government—the present and the pregnant: and in all probability it will shortly be my duty to wind up one and commence with the other. The people of this colony have adopted one of the most liberal constitutions, compatible with monarchy, which a people could have; it is a constitution of your own choosing, formed by your representatives…But when you adopted that Constitution, you adopted with it the principles from which it springs—that all power proceeds from the people. [3]

‘Canvas Town’: Melbourne in the mid-1850s

For some, his words suggested a liberalising of government policies but for conservatives, they seemed to augur the end to the privileges of the ruling class. In reality, Hotham was expressing a paternalistic concern for the welfare of the people as a whole rather than supporting the expansion of democratic principles. At Bendigo, meetings were held in late August to prepare resolutions for the Governor’s visit. [4] When in early September, Hotham visited Bendigo he was presented with a petition calling for the suspension of the license fee and decided to meet the diggers and address them arguing that ‘liberty and order’ had to be paid for but omitted to say that payment was increasingly achieved through the presence of military force.[5] What Hotham saw in all the goldfields he visited was partial and it was this that strongly influenced his future decisions. The Argus warned after his visits to the goldfields:

In the diggers he has seen an assemblage of men of infinite varieties of character and temperament; who have been greatly aggrieved in many respects and are neglected to this day. He has seen their numbers and heard their cheers, which, with true devotion to the lady whom he represents, he has put down to their ‘loyalty’. But loyalty has a wide as well as a narrow definition…it is not the unreasoning loyalty of a pack of slaves, reared in the habit of deferential submission to authority, whatever its quality or effects may be… [6]

Gold diggings, Ararat, Victoria, c1854

Hotham was shown only the richest claims and seeing the diggers in holiday mood, in mild spring weather, gained an ambiguous impression of their way of life and their prosperity. During his three months in the colony, Hotham had been shown evidence of its wealth but this picture of affluence on the goldfields was one-sided. Alluvial gold had been largely exhausted by 1853 and gold could now only be obtained by deep shaft mining, something that Hotham observed at both Bendigo and Ballarat.

The gold at Ballarat is obtained by deep sinking, in some cases the shaft is 180 feet deep – the digger then encounters slate in which the gold is found. The miner of Ballarat must be a man of capital, able to wait the result of five or six months toil before he wins his prize. For this reason he will always be a lover of order and good government and, provided he is kindly treated, will be found in the path of loyalty and duty. [7]

The yield from the goldfields was significantly lower in 1854 than in the previous two years and although there were still occasional rich strikes, the ‘golden age’ was coming to a close. Diggers could no longer move as easily from field to field and this made them more sensitive to license hunts and more willing to organise resistance. This had a depressing impact on urban investors who had risked their capital in insecure business ventures and shopkeepers who had imported merchandise they now could not sell. Bankruptcies increased, businesses collapsed and men were thrown out of work. [8]

The consequences of the over-importation have been most disastrous to this community. At first, when the glut caused a great depreciation in value, many speculators and retail traders purchased large quantities of goods, to hold for a rise; but the continued arrivals have caused an enormous further depreciation, and the speculators have suffered heavy losses. To this cause is to be attributed many insolvencies. Again, the universal system of forced sales and great sacrifices at auction, have very seriously injured legitimate business, both wholesale and retail, disappointed fair expectations, and caused a ruinous depreciation of stocks; so that many houses of previous good trading and excellent prospects have been unable to meet their engagements.[9]

Hotham’s observations led him to conclude that most of the diggers were sufficiently prosperous for the license to be described a ‘trifling sum’, in his despatch to Earl Grey and their expressions of loyalty convinced him that they were law-abiding citizens. [10] In reality, most diggers struggled to survive in a harsh and unyielding environment where the irritation of intrusive license hunts increased their hostility towards the authorities. Despite what occurred later, Hotham appears to have recognised this:

I deem it my duty to state my conviction, that no amount of military force at the disposal of Her Majesty’s Government, can coerce the diggers…by tact and management must these men be governed; amenable to reason, they are deaf to force, but discreet officers will always possess that influence which education and manners everywhere obtain. [11]

Samuel Thomas Gill, Mount Alexander goldfields, 1852

If Hotham had misunderstood the true situation on the goldfield, the diggers had equally misread the Governor’s intentions. On his return to Melbourne, Hotham was again confronted by Victoria’s precarious financial position and, faced with the urgent need to generate revenue turned to the gold license. Although he believed that there should be a more equitable tax on gold until changes could be made it was his duty to enforce the existing law. He was not persuaded by arguments of digger hardship especially as the fee had been reduced the previous year and maintained that failure to pay was the result of the inertia of the goldfield officials who only carried out license checks two or three times a month.

On 13 September, Hotham ordered that the ‘digger hunts’ should be conducted twice a week. This was certain to provoke an angry response from the diggers. Hotham however, was largely insulated from daily life on the goldfields.

He [Hotham] has not hitherto had proof of what commissioners very often are. He has only met them at dinner parties, at exhibitions and in parlors. He has yet to know the character of the creatures among the diggers to see them discharging their gentlemanly and agreeable duties of exacting a tax and making prisoners of defaulters… [12]

Local Commissioners made weekly reports to the Chief Commissioner in Melbourne who then informed the Governor of any developments considered important. Minor confrontations with diggers were probably played down by local officials who wanted to appear to be maintaining effective control. In addition, until the telegraph line from Melbourne to Geelong was completed in December 1854, all communication between the goldfields and Melbourne were carried by despatch riders who took over 30 hours to reach the metropolis. This lack of information and delays in receiving current intelligence meant that Hotham thought that reactions to his instructions were little more than an expression of irritation.

Lambing Flat miners’ camp c1860

Hotham’s Geelong speech in August hinted at liberalisation of government but his tightening of the license fee and reforms in the public services suggested that he was conservative and authoritarian. Many in Melbourne hoped that his speech at the opening of the new session of the Legislative Council on Thursday 21 September would clarify his position. [13] They were disappointed. Hotham’s speech was brief, did not mention land sales, the digger’s license or the influx of convicts and did little to add to his standing in the colony. [14] There appear to be two reasons for this. [15] He had become increasingly aware of the complexity of the problems he faced and may have felt he needed more time before publicly stating his policy on important issues. Also, his decision largely to ignore the Executive Council and take over routine administration himself was already having a negative effect. Instead of dealing with the daily mountain of correspondence, Hotham needed time to prepare his speech and take the advice of individuals who understood local issues better than he did. He only slowly recognised that there were individuals in Melbourne with ability and judgement and gradually began to take advantage of their support. Three men were particularly important. William Stawell, the Attorney-General and member of the Executive Council since 1851 saw himself as a liberal but many of his ideas were distinctly conservative. [16] John O’Shanassy was one of the government’s severest critics, supported the diggers in their demands for change in the license system and for access to low-priced land but Hotham found his advice invaluable. [17] Finally, John Pascoe Fawkner was a member of the Legislative Council and seen as the ‘tribune of the people’ because of his sympathies for the poor and strong opposition to squatters as a class. [18] His political advice could not be ignored.

Bendigo had been the centre of disturbances in late 1853 but these, like those in other goldfields, had died away in the early months of the following year. Yet, in late June 1854, there was a further disturbance focussing digger anger not on the license fee but the Chinese community. [19] There was growing racial tensions on the diggings where there were 3,000 Chinese out of about 18,000 men and the proportion of Chinese to European was steadily increasing.[20] William Denovan, a Scot who had arrived in Victoria in 1852 and had already achieved some prominence as an advocate of diggers’ rights, began an anti-Chinese movement in Bendigo and organised a public meeting for 4 July with the object of driving the Chinese off the goldfield.[21] The meeting was postponed because it clashed with American Independence Day celebrations but the movement continued with a large public meeting on 10 July.[22] Nonetheless, it crystallised some of Hotham’s ideas on the nature of goldfield disturbances though additional police were also sent from Mount Alexander to Bendigo to quell any further disturbances: the good sense of the majority of diggers and the need to deal decisively with a troublesome minority. [23] In mid-October 1854, a Goldfields Reform League was again established at Bendigo in response to the renewal of license hunts and plans were made to extend it to other fields. [24] Its approach, like the agitation the previous year, remained grounded in moral force with a plan to petition the British Government directly. William Howitt summed up the deteriorating situation in the following terms:

With the whole population of the diggings everywhere as familiar with these outrages and arbitrary usages of the gold Commissioners and police, as they are with the daily rising of the sun, the Governor flatly asserted that no such mal-administration existed…This put the climax to the public wrath. When the Governor of the colony showed himself so thoroughly ignorant of the real condition of its population, it was time for that population to make such a demonstration as should compel both inquiry and redress. [25]

[1] Hotham to Sir George Grey, 18 September 1854, reported his official visit to the goldfields.

[2] Ballarat Times, 2 September 1854.

[3] ‘Sir Charles Hotham’s Reception at Geelong’, Argus, 17 August 1854, pp. 4-5.

[4] ‘Bendigo’, Argus, 1 September 1854, pp. 4-5, details the resolutions passed at a mass meeting on 28 August.

[5] ‘Bendigo’, Argus, 8 September 1854, p. 6, ‘The McIvor Diggings’, Argus, 12 September 1854, p. 4.

[6] ‘The Excursion to the Gold-Fields’, Argus, 13 September 1854, p. 4.

[7] Hotham to Sir George Grey, 18 September 1854.

[8] There may have been unemployment in some areas of Victoria but in others there was a labour shortage. ‘The Unemployed: To the Editor of the Argus’, Argus 19 October 1854, p. 5, offered work to twelve men at 35 shillings a week plus rations on a farm three miles from Ballarat.

[9] ‘The Colony of Victoria’, Argus, 23 November 1854, p. 4.

[10] In Bendigo, there was considerable anger at Hotham’s failure to mention reform of goldfield management in his speech opening the Legislative Council on 21 August: Argus, 2 October 1854.

[11] Hotham to Sir George Grey, 18 September 1854.

[12] ‘Bendigo’, Argus, 21 October 1854, p. 6.

[13] ‘The Legislative Council’, Argus, 22 September 1854, p. 4.

[14] ‘The Governor’s Speech’, Argus, 22 September 1854, p. 4.

[15] Ibid, Roberts, Shirley, Charles Hotham, p. 127.

[16] Francis, Charles, ‘Sir William Foster Stawell (1815-1889)’, ADB, Vol. 6, pp. 174-177.

[17] Ingham, M., ‘Sir John O’Shanassy (1818-1883)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 378-382.

[18] Anderson, Hugh, ‘John Pascoe Fawkner (1792-1869)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 368-370, and Anderson, Hugh, Out of the Shadow: The Career of John Pascoe Fawkner, (Melbourne University Press), 1962.

[19] McLaren, Ian F., The Chinese in Victoria: Official Reports and Documents, (Red Rooster Press), 1985.

[20] ‘The Chinese on Bendigo’, Argus, 7 June 1854, p. 4, ‘Bendigo’, Argus, 22 June 1854, p. 3, ‘Bendigo’, Argus, 29 June 1854, p. 4, chart the emergence of the anti-Chinese movement in Bendigo.

[21] ‘William Dixon Campbell Denovan (1829-1906)’, ADB, Vol. 4, pp. 55-56.

[22] ‘The Anti-Chinese Movement’, Argus, 15 July 1854, p. 3.

[23] ‘Mount Alexander’, Argus, 12 July 1854, p. 3.

[24] ‘Bendigo’, Argus, 16 October 1854, p. 6.

[25] Howitt, William, Land, Labour and Gold or Two Years in Victoria with visits of Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, 2 Vols. (Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans), 1855, Vol. 2, pp. 2-3.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

A new governor with old problems

In May 1854, La Trobe left Victoria for England and his replacement, Sir Charles Hotham arrived in Melbourne on 21 June. [1] Born in 1806, Hotham had largely been at sea since the age of twelve. His defeat of Argentinean rebels in 1845, naval command on the west coast of Africa the following year and a diplomatic triumph with a commercial treaty with Paraguay in 1852 had given him a reputation as an individual who would rule Victoria. He was also expected to deal with the financial crisis that La Trobe had failed to resolve and with the license problem. Hotham was enthusiastically greeted in Melbourne and his speech, after the formal reception and swearing-in ceremony was well received. [2] Under the constitutional structure established in 1851, both the colonists and the British Government expected Hotham to initiate reform. The Argus summed up colonial expectations:

There is nothing which the colony more urgently requires, or which, from past experience, it is more ready to appreciate, than to find the administration of the government in the hands of an ‘honest’ man…As soon as he shares his responsibility with the people and their representatives, he will have less to account for…if he sets about [the business of government] in a sincere and resolute spirit, he will soon have cause to be astonished at the results of his own exertions[3]

Three groups with largely incompatible goals hoped to gain his support but in each case it proved difficult for Hotham to meet their expectations. Squatters wanted to maintain their political dominance by gaining protection for their lands against the inroads of newcomers and from successful diggers who sought land for its social and political status. [4] Merchants and shopkeepers hoped Hotham would expand colonial infrastructures by giving them new docks and warehouses and improving roads to help them sustain and expand their business. [5] This was something that the perilous state of colonial finances precluded. Diggers sought relief from the gold license, access to land so they could invest their wealth and a say in the government of the colony. The gold license has been problematic for three years but, in the absence of an agreed alternative and with the need to increase revenue from taxation to plug the growing gulf in expenditure, colonial government needed to raise more not less revenue from its collection.

La Trobe had met with his Executive Council regularly and was strongly influenced by its views but Hotham’s relationship with the Council was very different. During the early months of his administration, Hotham practically ignored it because he had decided soon after his arrival that the colony’s problems were largely caused by the incompetence of senior administrators. As a result, he attempted to act alone alienating the able men who would have provided him with valuable advice and assistance. His relationship with John Foster, the Colonial Secretary was particularly fraught and an intense antipathy sprang up between the two men. [6] Hotham was convinced that the civil service was inefficient and in need of reform but his inexperience in civil administration meant that instead of gaining its support for unpopular reform measures he alienated it.

Hotham found that the colony owed £400,000 to four banks, had an accumulated deficit of £3 million and a gap of over £1 million between the estimated revenue published in October 1853 and government expenditure. The Argus did not understate the problem when it stated that ‘the finances of the country have been wretchedly mismanaged’. Land revenue had fallen off as speculation declined bringing in only £304,000, some £600,000 below the estimates; customs revenues, estimated at £1.3 million, were only £414,000 and returns from the goldfields had fallen following La Trobe’s reduction of the license fee. Between 30 September 1853 and 30 June 1854, revenue from gold licenses fell from over £147,000 to nearly £78,000. [7] The government was paying inflated prices for goods and services and the collection of goldfield revenues was uneconomic with nearly half of the diggers evading the tax. For instance, at Ballarat in 1854, license revenue was almost all spent on the cost of the Government Camp and this was not an isolated situation.

For Hotham, this was intolerable and he made restoring public finances to solvency a major priority and in August, established a committee to assist him in this task. [8] Hotham’s investigation into the effectiveness of colonial government had some support as letters to the Argus demonstrates:

What a grand opportunity is now presented to a fair-dealing and enterprising man, to mark out for himself a course of conduct fitting a young and enterprising colony like Victoria… [9]

Its twelve reports between September 1854 and May 1855 formed the basis of a programme of financial reform Hotham began to introduce before the end of 1854. [10] The first report confirmed Hotham’s view of incompetence and mismanagement. The imprest system, introduced by Hugh Childers, who was now Collector of Customs and a member of the Executive Council was severely criticised. Under this system, departments were free to spend within defined limits without any safeguards against waste or mismanagement and were automatically reimbursed for their expenditure.[11] Hotham had little choice but to introduce reforms that were going to be unpopular. New taxes were necessary to raise revenue and some departments had their staffing cut. The timing of these reforms coincided with a short period of depression; wages had been declining for several months and unemployment gradually increasing. Hotham not only enforced the digger’s license more energetically than La Trobe but he also threw scores of people out of work.

[1] Knox, B. A., ‘Sir Charles Hotham (1806-1855)’, ADB, Vol. 4, pp. 429-430, and ibid, Roberts, Shirley, Charles Hotham, provide useful biographical details. Ibid, MacFarlane, Ian, Eureka from the Official Records, pp. 24-32, examines his administration.

[2] ‘The Reception’, Argus, 22 June 1854, p. 4, ‘The Arrival of Sir Charles Hotham’, Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 22 June 1854, p. 4.

[3] ‘The New Governor’, Argus, 24 June 1854, pp. 4-5.

[4] ‘The Squatters’ Meeting’, Argus, 29 September 1854, p. 5, indicates the concerns of squatters.

[5] ‘Chamber of Commerce’, Argus, 6 July 1854, p. 4, clearly established the interests of the Melbourne economic elite.

[6] Ibid, Roberts, Shirley, Charles Hotham, pp. 108-110, examines the reasons for the rift. See also, ‘Glimmerings of Reform’, Argus, 19 September 1854, p. 4, for a recondite analysis of Hotham and Foster.

[7] See, Government Gazette, 4 July 1854 and comments in ‘The Revenue’, Argus, 5 July 1854, p. 4.

[8] ‘Banking and Finance’, Argus, 8 September 1854, p. 5, indicates the breadth of Hotham’s ambitions.

[9] See, for instance, ‘Turning a New Leaf’, Argus 19 July 1854, p. 5, and ‘Official Patronage’, Argus, 19 September 1854, p. 5.

[10] Serle, pp. 159-161, explores this problem.

[11] ‘The Legislative Council’, Argus, 27 September 1854, p. 4.