Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Stockade

The precise function of the Stockade is also a matter of dispute. [1] The authorities clearly saw its construction and the swearing of oaths to a flag not of the sovereign country as dangerous acts of rebellion. Their view was reinforced by its construction across the Melbourne road, the most practical way for reinforcements to reach Ballarat. This was not Lalor’s view when he highlighted its role in early 1855. [2] He went to great pains to emphasise that his intention in building the Stockade was not warlike:
Well-grounded fears being entertained that Government spies would mix with the volunteers, and betray their movements, and it also being found necessary that a distinct place should be marked off, in which the men could muster together and be drilled, a piece of ground at Eureka was enclosed with slabs for that purpose…The government laid great stress on the erection of this enclosure, and have dignified it with the titles of stockade, barricade, fortified entrenchment, and camp. It may suit their policy to give it these titles, but in plain truth, it was nothing more than an enclosure to keep our men together, and was never erected with an eye to military defence…It is of importance to observe that we never contemplated remaining within the enclosure till attacked. [3]
Lalor’s view of the Stockade, something Carboni supported, was of a poor even flimsy structure that was never conceived in terms of military defence but simply a means of keeping his men together. Those who attacked it took a different view seeing it as a reasonably solid structure capable of resisting musket balls and a barrier to horsemen.[4] Although it was not capable of resisting an artillery attack, it certainly provided protection for its defenders against small-arms fire.
Although there are many contemporary accounts of what the Stockade looked like, there is no definitive description. Situated at the point where the Eureka Lead took its bend by the old Melbourne Road, its precise location was not resolved until the 1990s. [5] There is also some disagreement about the evolution of the Stockade. Although a basic structure was begun on the Thursday 30 November, Carboni said Vern superintended its building on Friday 1 December, following instructions from Lalor.[6] However, Stephen Cummins who had been on watch on Friday night awoke next morning to see the Stockade being completed. It seems probable that initial construction began on Thursday and not completed until Friday but that during the Saturday morning, it was further strengthened. As to its size: Carboni described at as covering an acre of land, while others estimated that it was four times larger but it also included some tents, huts, a store and several shafts[7]
Huyghue, a clerk at the Government Camp, described it as a semi-circle while Assistant-Commissioner Amos saw it as a parallelogram, stated that the timber breastwork was in some places nearly seven feet high and consisted of various materials such as felled trees, branches, bags of sand, and towards the Melbourne road, partly overturned carts. [8] It was, however, largely made of thick slabs that were normally used to timber shafts. The split posts were inserted into a trench about four feet in depth, the round sides facing inwards and the rough split sides to the exterior of the Stockade. [9]
Marlene Gilson: Mount Warrenhelp and Eureka Stockade, 2013
‘The Aboriginal people played a big role on the Ballarat goldfields and at the Eureka Stockade—my ancestors the Wadawurrung clan cared for the miners’ children in the bush as the battle raged. I also acknowledge the Woirung and Boonerung clans, proud native police and black trackers. They all are a part of Ballarat’s history.’
It is evident that the Stockade was a stronger defensive position that Lalor and others admitted. Events during the assault indicate that it was of reasonably strong construction providing adequate cover from musket fire for the rebels sheltering behind its slabs for at least ten minutes. The major problem was that the rebels were not engineers and the area enclosed was too large to be defended. The Stockade may have been a physical challenge to an increasingly isolated Government Camp and provided a protected headquarters for the rebellion but how it was viewed depended on what the intention of the rebels was. Those who were involved in the rebellion had a vested interest in its aftermath to play down or even deny the confrontational intentions of the rebels. Carboni may well have been right when he lamented the rebels being seduced by their militaristic infatuations. [10]

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Vicars and Tarts!! Well almost

Tom Hughes Clerical Errors: A Victorian Series, Volume 1, (Kindle edition), £3.86

The behaviour of public figures has always been subject to scrutiny from an often prurient public. This has been particularly the case with clergymen especially those who pronounce solemnly on issues of personal morality and then demonstrate a hypocritical disregard for their own words.  Often their indiscretions were--and still are in some cases--brushed under the carpet by moving individuals to different parishes but often not before their actions had become newsworthy.  Public attention was magnified by the dramatic expansion of the local press during the nineteenth century--then as now scandal sold newspapers.  Clerical Errors mines the local press to explore five such scandals.  There is the case of a married London clergyman accused of writing an obscene letter to his supposed mistress; a country clergy accused of breach of promise and a Manchester curate who stole the affections of a wealthy cotton merchant's wife; a slander trial when a Berkshire clergyman sued a farmer who claimed to have seen the vicar and a female parishioner in a compromising position; and a vicar with a sickly wife who advertised for a cook with unfortunate consequences. 
Not only are the stories of these five scandals well told and are based on an obvious detailed understanding of the contemporary press, but they provide important insights into social attitudes in Victorian Britain to the politics of class and gender and the ways in which both the common law and ecclesiastical courts were used  in clerical scandals.  Reputation was critical for individuals, especially clergymen, and they were prepared to go to great lengths to protect it. 
This is an excellent book in which Tom Hughes writes with verve on a subject he knows well.  It combines well-structured, interesting narrative with analysis of why the five stories are important in illustrating social attitudes to clerical misdemeanours.  I look forward to further volumes on the subject.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The ‘Southern Cross’

Given the symbolic importance of the Southern Cross and the Eureka Stockade to the later history of Australia, it is perhaps not surprising that both have been issues of controversy. The Southern Cross, first flown at Bakery Hill on 29 November and then over the Eureka Stockade until the assault on 3 December, was viewed by diggers as the symbol of their resistance to colonial authority. It was not the flag of revolution but an assertion by the people that their dignity and rights would be defended against an insensitive and despotic government. The design of the flag was taken by Charles Ross, one of Eureka’s miners from Canada to three women Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke and Elizabeth Hayes to sew in time for a large rally at Bakery Hill. There is no evidence who designed the flag, although Ross was known on the diggings as the ‘bridegroom’ of the flag and is often credited with having created its unique design.  
During the battle on December 3 1854, he was mortally wounded near the flagpole and the Eureka flag was torn down, trampled, hacked with sabres and peppered with bullets. It was retrieved by Trooper John King and the King family kept the flag for 40 years, until loaned to the Ballarat Art Gallery in 1895, where it remained in continued obscurity until it was ‘rediscovered’ by Len Fox during the 1930s. However, it took decades to convince authorities properly to authenticate it. [1] Final proof was found in the sketchbooks of Charles Doudiet, auctioned in 1996. Doudiet, a French Canadian artist-digger, had been prospecting at Ballarat in 1854 where he had befriended another digger, ‘Charlie’ Ross. When ‘Captain’ Ross, as the diggers called him, was severely wounded in the attack on the Stockade, it was Doudiet who took Ross to a hotel to nurse him.[2] Doudiet, eyewitness of these events, then recorded meticulously in his sketchbook the two major events of the Eureka story: the diggers taking the famous oath of allegiance beneath the flag and also the storming of the Stockade that he labelled, ‘Eureka Slaughter 3 December’. Both of his paintings show the flag flying, its design exactly as described by Len Fox’s research. The remnant of the original Eureka Flag remains today, preserved for public display in Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, along with Doudiet’s sketches.[3]

Monday, 11 April 2016

Taxation and the politics of envy

So should politicians and, if some people have their way other people in ‘public life’, choose to do what the rest of us will never be asked to do…reveal how much tax we pay?  Like the confessional, our tax affairs are sacrosanct; they are between us and the Inland Revenue and if we breach the rules we are subject to the Law.  Our personal relationship with the Inland Revenue is not governed by our morality but by the taxation rules enshrined in statute law structured so that people, by following the rules, pay no more tax than they are legally obliged to.  It is my right to plan my payment of taxes within those rules and that includes gifting to my children money on which they will not pay inheritance tax as long as I survive for seven years. So is this tax avoidance…well, yes it is, you are avoiding paying tax on your estate after you die.  We live in a society where tax avoidance has taken on a morally unjustifiable, and in the case of ‘aggressive tax avoidance’ repugnant, status especially if you’re wealthy while we are all quite prepared to avoid paying tax if we possibly can. 
Parallels have been drawn with the expenses scandal and the publication of David Cameron’s summary of his tax affairs that are to my mind spurious.  MPs’ expenses was about how some MPs defrauded the tax-payer of public monies and for which they could quite justifiably be held publically and legally accountable.  Politicians’ personal tax affairs or the tax affairs of anyone in the public eye may well be legally accountable to the rules controlled by Inland Revenue but they are not—and nor should they be—subject to public scrutiny.  As long as they operate their own tax affairs within the rules, whether we think they are avoiding paying tax is beside the point…they are acting within the rules.

I have on several occasions in the past commented on our tax system and the ways in which it operates.  Why should individuals because they hold a particular position in society be ‘compelled’ by public opinion or political opponents to reveal private tax affairs when Inland Revenue is perfectly happy with the amount of taxation those individuals are paying?  Ah, I hear you say, precisely because they are in the public eye and because they may well be wealthy in their own rights.  So it’s not really about how much tax they pay but because they’re ‘rich boys’.  I can see you getting greener as this goes on!!  But is the genie now out of the green bottle?  Not necessarily if politicians of whatever party have the guts to stand up to the pressure that they will undoubtedly be put under.  Some will publish and to refuse to do so raises the question…why not?   But you have to question the motivation of those calling for transparency…is it about people breaking the rules or is it moral indignation or is it about causing political embarrassment and making party political points?  If you don’t like the rules that apply to personal taxation than—and there’s a very strong case for doing so—change them but until that occurs why shouldn’t people apply those rules so that they do not have to pay any more tax than they are legally obliged to do so.  But then being morally affronted is so much easier!!!