The goldfields of Ballarat in 1854 were a place of discontent and the main cause of that discontent was the license required before anyone could dig for gold. The resentment against the licence was not only over the high license fee of 30 shillings a month, but the methods used to carry out license searches. The 'traps' would ask for licenses at the most inconvenient times, sometimes as much as three times in the one day, and no excuses were allowed. Anyone who didn't have their license on their person would be arrested. Also, the license, in itself, was considered unfair as the diggers could not vote - taxation without representation.
It was while feelings against the license were running high, that James Scobie was killed after paying a late night visit to the Eureka Hotel. All evidence pointed towards the publican of the hotel, William Bentley, but he was acquitted. As the diggers felt this was only because he was friendly with the right people, it added to their grievances and their sense of being treated unfairly. A meeting was held outside the Eureka Hotel - one of its purposes being to offer a reward to anyone who could supply evidence for Scobie's murder. It began peacefully, but a smashed window fuelled further attacks of vandalism, which ended in the Eureka Hotel being burnt to the ground.
Three people were arrested and given various sentences of between 3 to 6 months, which were considered unfair by the diggers, especially as the three arrested were not responsible. They demanded the release of the prisoners, and their demands were ignored. A monster meeting was held at Bakery Hill. A new flag was hoisted of the Southern Cross on a blue background. The diggers gave an oath and threw their licenses in the fire. Predictably enough, further license raids were carried out and the mood on the goldfields became rebellious.
They built a stockade on Eureka Hotel and those that didn't have weapons armed themselves with pikes. The flag of the Southern Cross held a prominent place. But by Saturday evening, most of the diggers were disheartened, bored and hungry and many of them returned to their homes. Early on Sunday morning, the Stockade was attacked, when only about 150 diggers were left.
Approximately 30 diggers and 5 soldiers were killed. The leader of the rebellion, Peter Lalor, was seriously injured. He was hidden during the battle and later removed to a safe place, where his arm was amputated. Later on, the leaders were acquitted of any crime and Peter Lalor became a politician. .
By: Elizabeth Palmer
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