Thursday, 20 October 2016

Trial without Retribution

The attack on the Eureka Stockade marked the dénouement of digger protests that began with the first protest meeting at Buninyong on 25 August 1851 when news arrived of a license fee being levied on all miners. The Geelong Advertiser’s reporter Alfred Clarke who attended the meeting wrote:
…there has not been a more gross attempt at injustice since the days of Wat Tyler…It is a solemn protest of labour against oppression, an outburst of light, reason and right against the infliction of an effete objectionable Royal claim…It is taxation without representation. Tonight for the first time since Australia rose from the bosom of the ocean, were men strong in their sense of right, lifting up a protest against an impending wrong, and protesting against the Government. Let the Government beware! [1]
This early agitation was followed by a number of protest movements, beginning with the formation of a Miners’ Association at Mount Alexander (Castlemaine) in December 1851. There were protests at the Ovens and at Bendigo, a Colonial Reform Association was formed in Melbourne in 1853 and in Bendigo the Red Ribbon agitation was led by the Anti-Gold License Association. The Bendigo petition was couched in Chartist terms. Protest meetings were held at Ballarat and a Chartist newspaper, the Diggers Advocate, was founded in Melbourne in October 1853 by Henry Holyoake and George Black, with H. R. Nicholls as an assistant editor.[2] Its editorials called the Victorian government ‘an arbitrary despotism…which denied the right to assist in making the laws under which they [the diggers] lived’. [3] On 3 November 1853, the Argus reported the formation of a Gold Diggers’ Association. The volatility of the goldfields made it difficult to organise the diggers and these political movements were short-lived.
The arrival of Sir Charles Hotham in July 1854 saw the popular movement re-emerge in Ballarat. Initially admired, he soon ordered that the diggers must pay their licenses and that his police and military should conduct regular inspections, if necessary, at the point of a bayonet. The political climate in Victoria changed dramatically. A growing sense of injustice at the failure of the courts to deliver fair verdicts and the persistent cancer of the gold license led to the formation of the Ballarat Reform League in early November. The failure of the local goldfield administration to defuse the situation and growing digger militancy led to a direct attack on the authority of the Crown with the construction of the Stockade at Eureka and the swearing of an oath before the Southern Cross. The authorities acted swiftly and with brutality on 3 December 1854 but the initial euphoria at their success quickly evaporated once the tragic scale of the ‘massacre’ became known. Charles Evans commented:
It is a dark indelible strain on a British Government – a deed which can be fitly placed side by side with the treacheries and cold blooded cruelties of Austria & Russia. [4]
With over 100 diggers in custody, the question was what would Hotham do next?
In the immediate aftermath of the attack on Eureka Stockade, public opinion was divided. Hotham’s initial call for support in maintaining law and order was well received and was supported by the Legislative Council, the city of Melbourne and its councillors and by bankers, merchants and landowners. On 7 December, the ‘squatting community’ pledged their support for any measure Hotham decided would further ‘the maintenance of law and the preservation of the community from social disorganisation’. [5] However, the government’s response to Eureka and its subsequent actions led to growing opposition. The Argus was concerned by a ‘most formidable spirit of disaffection’ with the government and the open assertion of ‘republican principles’ among the people. [6] Resolutions passed at a public meeting in Melbourne on 6 December, while they did not directly support the diggers, expressed concerns about the government’s use of excessive military force at Ballarat. [7] Its first resolution stated:
That the constitutional agitation at Ballaarat has assumed its present form in consequence of the coercion of a military force, professedly imported for the defence of the colony against foreign aggression; and that matters would not have been precipitated to their present issue, but for the harsh and imprudent recemmencement of digger-hunting during a period of excitement.
While the second made further criticisms of the government:
That the citizens of Melbourne, while disapproving of the physical resistance offered by the diggers to the Government, cannot, without betraying the interests of liberty, lend their support to the measures of the Government till they have a guarantee that steps will at once be taken to place the colony in general and the goldfields in particular on such a footing that a military despotism will no longer be required.
Instead of attempting to defuse the situation and despite the recommendation of the Gold Fields Commission on 10 January 1855, Hotham exacerbated matters by refusing an amnesty for those involved in the rebellion, while granting it to officials. Digger disillusion with the government’s behaviour over Eureka and specifically with the decision to try men for treason was evident across the goldfields.

[1] Argus, 30 August 1851, p. 4, cit, Stackpoole, Harry, Gold at Ballarat: The Ballarat East goldfield, its discovery and development, (Lowden), 1971, p. 17.
[2] Clark, C. M. H., History of Australia, Vol. 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1978, p. 105, Pickering, Paul A., ‘“Glimpses of Eternal Truth”: Chartism, Poetry and the Young H. R. Nicholls’, Labour History, No. 70, (May 1996), pp. 53-70.
[3] Diggers Advocate, 1 April 1854.
[4] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 3 December 1854, p. 138.
[5] ‘The Legislative Council’, Argus, 8 December 1854, pp. 4-5.
[6] ‘State of Feeling in Victoria’, Argus, 6 January 1855, p. 5.
[7] ‘Meeting for the Protection of Constitutional Liberty’, Argus, 7 December 1854, p. 5.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Three Rebellions…a second edition

There have been important change in the Rebellion Trilogy, a series of books that were written between 2004 and 2010 and published in 2010, 2011 and 2013.  The series will become a Quartet with the addition of a fourth volume entitled Ireland, Revolution and Diaspora 1882-1923. This was, in part, the result of a comment from a colleague who suggested that I’d looked at the aperitif and starter but hadn’t really got on to the main course. This echoed my own feeling about the Irish dimension in the series. I had started to tell the story but it had yet to reach the ‘freedom’ in my Famine, Fenians and Freedom, 1840-1882.
The first volume in the series is Three Rebellions: Canada, South Wales and Australia that considers the context, causes and consequences of three major popular disturbances in the British Empire during the early years of Queen Victoria’s long reign. In the Canadas during 1837 and 1838, at Newport in South Wales in 1839 and at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat, Victoria in Australia in 1854 thousands of largely working people took up arms against the forces of colonial rule and oppression. What linked these three events was a popular form of constitutionalism, linked to British radicalism and especially to Chartism that sought constitutional and democratic change but which was denied by colonial oligarchies that sought to retain political power in their own hands. The rebellions each failed when faced by the overwhelming force of the colonial state but, although they were defeated militarily, each played a significant role in the emergence of more responsive and responsible government. Today, the losers are better remembered than those who defeated them in 1837-1838, 1839 and 1854.

The first edition of Three Rebellions was completed in 2008 and finally published in early 2010. In the intervening years I have continued to grapple with the issues raised in the original volume publishing more detailed discussion of the rebellions in Britain, Canada and Australia.The major difference between the first and second editions is that I have significantly reduced the length of the work by taking out the foreword, relevant in 2009 but not today, and the chapters that dealt with the links between the three rebellions and how the rebellions have been remembered and commemorated. My reason for doing this—other than making the work tighter—is that I have included revised versions of these chapters in my Chartism: A Global History and other essays, published earlier this year.

Friday, 7 October 2016

1066 and Brexit

In a week’s time it will be the 950th anniversary of the one event that most people in Britain know…the Battle of Hastings.  It is no surprise that this totemic event has been linked to the equally totemic decision to leave the EU…the one was when England lost her independence before the Norman onslaught; the latter when the people of Britain took back that independence from the hordes of EU technocrats…a case of one in the eye for Brussels!!! 

The events of the summer and early autumn of 1066 are well known. On 25th September, the combined armies of Earl Tostig, brother of King Harold, and King Harold Hardrada of Norway, were defeated at Stamford Bridge. Upon his return to London, King Harold received the news of Duke William’s landing at Pevensey on 29th September and within a fortnight the battle of Hastings took place. King Harold was killed and with him the greater part of the English nobility. Duke William’s victory, the carnage of the battlefield, and the retrospective significance of the heavenly sign portending victory were at once reported all over Europe.  Britain lay at the heart of the globalisation of northern Europe in the eleventh century with the rapid expansion of the Viking trading empire…yes there was a Norway option even then!!

Many Norman families were of Scandinavian descent and retained memories of their Viking forebears. However, links between Normandy and Scandinavia weakened with time, and there is little evidence that in the period from the 1020s that the dukes of Normandy maintained relations with the Scandinavian realms in the way that they clearly did with the Scandinavian kings of England, Cnut, Harald and Harthacnut. When William became king of England in 1066, however, he was obliged to pay attention to these realms because of the threat represented by Denmark in particular. He had little to fear from Norway, because King Harald Hardrada, together with Earl Tostig, had perished. But King Sweyn Estrithsson of Denmark was a nephew of King Cnut of England; moreover, a sister of his father Ulf, called Gytha, had married Earl Godwine and was the mother of the Harold who died at Hastings. These dynastic links encouraged, in Sweyn Estrithsson and subsequently in his eldest son and successor King Cnut IV the ambition to reunite the kingdoms of Denmark and England. Svein Estrithsson gave active backing to the Anglo-Saxon rebels in England, besides invading England himself in 1069 and 1070. His sons invaded England again in 1075. And yet another invasion was planned in 1085 by Cnut IV in alliance with his father-in-law, the Flemish Count Robert ‘the Frisian’. This never materialised and was the last attempt to oust William from the English throne. 

Three sources are relevant with regard to Scandinavia. The earliest is a poem, which gives us a glimpse of how the Anglo-Danish community felt a decade after the arrival of the Normans. It was written in England in 1076 by Thorkill Skallason, a Danish skald[1] in the service of Earl Waltheof, shortly after his master had been executed by King William for his involvement in the 1075 rebellion. His view of William is understandably bitter[2].

“William crossed the cold channel and reddened the bright swords, and now he has betrayed noble Earl Waltheof. It is true that killing in England will be a long time ending. A braver lord than Waltheof will never be seen on earth.”

The second source is the History of the Archbishops of Bremen, written c. 1080 by Adam of Bremen, a clerk at the archiepiscopal court[3]. His testimony is important because in 1068 or 1069 he visited King Sweyn Estrithsson and may have incorporated some of the king’s views. He justifies a digression on 1066 by reminding his readers that the battle of Hastings was great and memorable and that it had happened in England which of old had been subjected to the Danes. Adam calls Harold Godwinson a ‘vir maleficus’ who usurped the throne of England. He continues by saying that Harold killed not only his brother Tostig, but also King Harold Hardrada and the king of Ireland. Then, relying on hearsay, he says that only eight days later William crossed from France to England and fought a battle against a tired victor. Harold died, together with 100,000 Englishmen. According to Adam, William was God’s avenger in punishing the English, who had sinned against Him. He banished almost all the monks who lived without a monastic rule and brought in Lanfranc to restore divine worship. In a later addition, Adam himself attributes King William’s wealth to his confiscation of 300 ships left behind by King Harald Hardrada plus the gold which Harald had collected while a Varangian in Greece. If this story originated from King Sweyn, which is quite possible, then it reinforces the hypothesis that Sweyn’s attacks on England in the immediate post-conquest period were inspired by a quest for booty as well as land. Although Adam of Bremen openly condemns Harold’s election as king, he justifies William’s invasion and his succession to the throne only in terms of divine retribution. The same attitude can be found in contemporary English sources like the anonymous Vita Edwardi, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The third source that reflects Danish opinion dates from c. 1122, when the Anglo-Saxon exile Aelnoth of Canterbury[4], who lived at Odense, wrote his biography of King Cnut IV, son of King Sweyn Estrithsson, who was killed in 1086. According to Aelnoth, King Cnut planned the abortive invasion of 1085 as revenge for the death of his kinsman, King Harold Godwinson and for the imposition on the English by William the Conqueror of the imperium of the Romans and the French. “In their despair”, he wrote,

“the English, whose dukes, counts, lords, noblemen and other people of high rank had either been killed, or imprisoned, or deprived of their father’s honours, wealth, dignity or inheritance or expelled abroad, or left behind and forced into public slavery, were not able to bear the tyranny of the Romans and the French and declined to seek foreign help.”

King Cnut is pictured as the natural protector of the English people against the aggression of a foreign duke. Even almost a millennium after the Conquest, it seems there were people who still see the British Isles as part of a larger Scandinavian kingdom.

[1] R. Frank, Old Norse Court Poetry: the Dróttkvætt Stanza, Islandica, Vol. 2, (1978) for the nature of scaldic verse; also, R. Frank, ‘Skaldic Poetry’, Old Norse - Icelandic Literature: a Critical Guide, edited C.J. Clover and J. Lindow, Islandica, Vol. 45. (1985), pages 157-196.
[2] Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, translated by L.M. Hollander, London, 1964 is the great twelfth-century synoptic history by Snorri Sturluson. Two sections of this poem have survived in Old Norse as part of the saga of Harold Hardrada: King Harald's Saga: Harold Hardrada of Norway from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, translated M. Magnusson and H. Palsson, Harmondsworth 1966, pages 157-8; cf. De gestis regum ii, 311: “Siquidem Weldeofus in Eboracensi pugna plures Normannorum solus obtrucavenat, unos per portam egredientes decapitans.” The suggestion of an underlying verse was first launched by F.S. Scott, ‘Earl Waltheof of Northumbria’, Archaelogia Aeliana, (1952), pages 159-213 at page 179.
[3] Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum was written c. 1080. In four books: book I covers activities of missionaries in the north; book II is on 10th and early 11th century archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, including material on reigns of Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut; book III is on Archbishop Adalbert (1043-72), including material on reign of Edward the Confessor etc. (e.g. pages 124-5, 158-9); book IV is on the islands of the north. Text: Adam von Bremen, Hamburgische Kirchengeschichte, ed. B. Schmeidler, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, 1917. Text and German translation: Quellen des 9. und 11. Jahrhunderts zur Geschichte der hamburgischen Kirche und des Reiches, ed. W. Trillmich and R. Buchner, Ausgewählte Quellen zur deutschen Geschichte des Mittelalters 11, 1978, pages 160-502. English translation: F.J. Tschan, Adam of Bremen: History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, 1959.

[4] Aelnoth, Gesta Svenomagni etc 1047-1104, translated by E. Albrechtsen, Odense 1984.