The Eureka Rebellion The Eureka Rebellion2 is often referred to as the Eureka Stockade. The rebellion came about because the goldfield workers (known as 'diggers') opposed the government miners' licences. The licences were a simple way for the government to tax the diggers. Licence fees had to be paid regardless of whether a digger found any gold or not. Diggers who found little or no gold found it difficult to pay their licence fees.
The population of the Victorian goldfields peaked in 1858 at 150,000. More than half of these were British immigrants, and 40,000 were Chinese. There were also Americans, French, Italian, German, Polish and Hungarians, as well as many other nationalities. Aboriginal people were also present4.
Law and order on the goldfields was enforced by the Gold Commission's police force which was later reinforced by a garrison of soldiers. 6Governor Hotham9 came to power in June 1854 and set up licence checks twice a week to enforce the licensing laws. Tensions began to boil over as opposition to the licences10 increased.
Official corruption was another concern for the diggers. This issue came to a head after a group of men beat to death a drunken Scottish digger. The group included local publican James Bentley. Bentley was a friend of the local magistrate and he escaped prosecution, as did three other men from the group.
This led to the diggers meeting on 17 October to try to bring the men to justice. After the meeting a crowd of diggers burnt Bentley's hotel11 to the ground. Soon after three diggers were arrested and charged with arson for their part in setting fire to the hotel.
On 11 November, 10,000 diggers met to demand the release of the three diggers, the abolition of the licence and the vote for all males. This was followed by an even larger meeting on 29 November where the diggers decided to publicly burn their mining licences. At this meeting the famous Southern Cross flag, which was to become known as the Eureka Flag, was displayed. In response to the meeting, the Gold Commissioner ordered a licence hunt for the following day.
On 30 November another mass burning of licences took place at a meeting on Bakery Hill. Under the leadership of Peter Lalor14, the diggers then marched to the Eureka diggings, where they constructed the famous stockade15.
Early in the morning of Sunday 3 December the authorities launched an attack on the stockade. The diggers were outnumbered and the battle was over in twenty minutes. Twenty-two diggers and five troops were killed. The Southern Cross flag was pulled from the flagpole. Peter Lalor escaped the scene even though his arm had been badly injured (later requiring amputation).
A bill was passed in 1854, reducing the cost of a licence to one pound, previously eight pounds. The hated Gold Commission was replaced by a system of mining wardens.
In 1855 Peter Lalor later became the first MLC (Member of the Legislative Council16) for the seat of Ballarat. The Ballarat miners were given eight representatives on the Legislative Council.