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The Eureka Stockade



EUREKA – Justice on the mines














The most significant political event in the history of the goldrush era was the Eureka Rebellion, which is now referred to as the Eureka Stockade, where disgruntled miners fought for their cause – with their blood. This rebellion was the result of continued persecution by the authorities and has gone down in Australian history to signify our rebellious and independent spirit as a nation.

The rebellion was the culmination of a series of demonstrations, some as large as 10,000, against the colonial government over the issuing of miner’s licenses. Originally devised to stop ‘bolters’ it soon became evident that colonial revenue was also a major motive. In retrospect, the license issue had been handled badly, especially by the Victorians, from the first year of the discoveries when, in August 1851, Lieutenant Governor La Trobe proclaimed Government Gazette crown rights for all mining proceeds, and a license fee of 30 shillings per month effective from 1st September 1851. The miners responded with a demonstration opposing the fee. In December the government announced that it intended to triple the license fee from £1 to £3 a month, from 1 January 1852. The miners were incensed and determined to defy the law. Many started to gather arms. At the same time the law enforcement on the goldfields was stepped up and met by hostility from the miners.

The Eureka Rebellion has been well-documented elsewhere but suffice to say that at 3 am on 3 December 1854 a small group of miners, around 150, led by Peter Lalor, were camped at the stockade and confronted with a government party of 276 well-armed military and police. The miners were taken by surprise, believing they would not be attacked on the sabbath, and were greatly outnumbered. The actual siege, which lasted little over ten minutes, resulted in 22 deaths.

As they say, ‘the rest is history’ and the effects of Eureka, despite the government’s success, resulted in a victory for the miners. The Eureka Stockade has now entered our mythology as has the now iconic Southern Cross flag.

The famed American writer Mark Twain visited Australia in 1895 and summed up the siege perfectly ”By and by there was a result, and I think it may be called the finest thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution – small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression….It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. It adds an honorable page to history; the people know it and are proud of it. They keep green the memory of the men who fell at the Eureka stockade, and Peter Lalor has his monument.

One of the curious aspects of Australian folk song is that there are no traditional songs that commemorated the event. Although there were none collected all folklorists know this isn’t to say they were not created and circulated. Compare this incident with, say, the exploits of the Kelly Gang, and you would think such a rebellious event would have struck hard into the anonymous songwriter’s pen. That aside, the event has certainly encouraged the songwriters who followed, especially in the latter half of the 20th century. There is now a body of stirring songs assuring the Eureka Stockade will remain in our musical collections.

As the following song was included in the Australian Melodist Songster (No. 21), a very successful publication, I can only assume it had wide circulation, however it has not been recorded in the tradition and no tune was indicated. It did mention sung with success everywhere by Will Danvers’. It is important because it celebrates Peter Lalor and Eureka – an early acknowledgement considering the songster was published circa 1880.

The Land of Gold

I’m only a digger—I arrived years ago

When your land did its treasures untold.

And all eyes on Australia were instantly turned,

At the cry of that magic word, “Gold !”

Your streets golden pavements were said to possess.

Men were all making fortunes untold;

So I, with the gold fever then at its height,

Came, with others, in search of your gold

Gold, gold. gold, this I would get I was told.

So out to seek my fortune I came in the days of old.

Gold! gold! gold!

The treasure I did behold,

And I got more than my share of it

In this the land of gold.

Gold, gold, gold, in riches the whole of us rolled—

Why, we’d light our pipes with ten pun’ notes

In the good old days of old.

Gold! Gold! Gold!

With pleasure we all would behold .

But we scarcely knew what to do with it then,

In this the land of gold.

You talk of Eureka—ah! I was there,

‘Twas a gallant old stand we all made;

Prompt action! Like demons our rights we maintained

At Ballarat’s famous stockade.

Both bold and determined—’twas justice we sought—

Like one man we worked as a whole.

And we had a loved leader, so fearless and brave—

Peter Lalor -’twas he, rest his soul.

Gold! Gold! Gold!

We’d heroes, we had, of old,

Like dear old Peter Lalor – veterans staunch and bold.

Gold! Gold! Gold!

We’ll never again behold

Such sturdy, rugged warriors

In this the land of gold.

Gold, gold, gold, years merrily onward rolled,

And vanishing now are the pioneers

Of the good old days of old.

Gold! Gold! Gold!

The bell of misfortune has toiled,

Oh! For a small slice of the long time back

In this the land of gold.

Kenneth Cook (1929-1987), author of Wake In Fright wrote this poem, based on an American Civil War song of the same name which has, over time, been sung to an Irish rebel song  – a fitting choice considering the large number of Irish miners represented at the siege.

The Cross of the South

(Suggested tune: Kelly The Boy From Killane)

‘Twas the month of December, the year fifty-four

When the men of Eureka rebelled.

And they swore that the flag they had made for themselves

Ever proudly aloft would be held.

The miners took arms in the stockade that day,

The bold word passed from mouth to mouth

‘We will stand by this flag and the stars that it bears,

White stars of the Cross of the South’.

The hot blood of the heroes ran fast in their veins,

There was but one man they obeyed.

The hero of heroes they chose from their ranks

Peter Lalor their hero they made.

Peter Lalor said, ‘We must stand by our guns,

Fear not the cannon’s fierce mouth!

For I see the soldiers are gathering now

To tear down the Cross of the South’.

Captain Thomas charged the Eureka Stockade,

Three hundred troops by his side.

Fire and steel met them there and they fell back again,

But the first of the miners had died.

The smoke from the battle had scarce cleared away

When the soldiers came charging once more,

The miners were killed as they stood ’round their flag

Or fell from the wounds they bore.

Bold Peter Lalor lay shot on the ground

Where the soldiers had left him for dead,

And the flag that he loved lay there by his side,

The white stars all stained with red.

Peter Lalor he rose on his knees in the dust,

Wild words poured from his mouth:

‘You can murder us all in black tyranny’s name,

But you can’t kill the Cross of the South.’

Another song from the 20th century has had wide circulation and was written by Helen Palmer in 1950.

Ballad of Eureka

They’re leaving ship and station,
They’re leaving bench and fold,
And pouring out from Melbourne
To join the search for gold.

The face of town and country
Is changing ev’ry day,
But rulers keep on ruling
The old colonial way.

“How can we work the diggings
And learn how fortune feels
If all the traps forever
Are yelping at our heels?”

“If you’ve enough,” says Lalor,
“Of all their little games,
Then go and get your licence
And throw it on the flames!”

“The law is out to get us
And make us bow in fear.
They call us foreign rebels
Who’d plant the Charter here!”

“They may be right,” says Lalor,
“But if they show their braid,
We’ll stand our ground and hold it
Behind a bush stockade!”

There’s not a flag in Europe
More lovely to behold,
Than floats above Eureka
Where diggers work the gold.

“There’s not a flag in Europe
More lovely to the eye,
Than is the blue and silver
Against a southern sky.

Here in the name of freedom,
Whatever be our loss,
We swear to stand together
Beneath the Southern Cross.”

It is a Sunday morning.
The miner’s camp is still;
Two hundred flashing redcoats
Come marching to the hill

Come marching up the gully
With muskets firing low;
And diggers wake from dreaming
To hear the bugle blow.

The wounded and the dying
Lie silent in the sun,
But change will not be halted
By any redcoats gun.

As I was preparing this manuscript I came across a Henry Lawson poem about Eureka that had been written especially for the Freeman’s Journal (Sydney) and published 27 December 1890. Lawson, radical that he was, seems to relish the Eureka story giving it full rein adding, “whenever I think of Eureka my talking is apt to run wild.” Like many of the poet’s epic works it is best read loudly.

The Fight At Eureka Stockade.      

“Was I at Eureka?” His figure was drawn to a youthful height,

And a flood of proud recollections made the fire in his grey eyes bright;

With pleasure they lighted and glisten’d, tho’ the digger was grizzled and old,

And we gathered about him and listen’d while the tale of Eureka he told.

“Ah, those were the days,” said the digger, “twas a glorious life that we led,

When fortunes were dug up and lost in a day in the whirl of the years that are dead.

But there’s many a veteran now in the land – old knights of the pick and the spade,

Who could tell you in language far stronger than mine ’bout the fight at Eureka Stockade.

“We were all of us young on the diggings in days when the nation had birth –

Light-hearted, and careless, and happy, and the flower of all nations on earth;

But we would have been peaceful an’ quiet if the law had but let us alone;

And the fight – let them call it a riot – was due to no fault of our own.

“The creed of our rulers was narrow – they ruled with a merciless hand,

For the mark of the cursed broad arrow was deep in the heart of the land.

They treated us worse than the negroes were treated in slavery’s day –

And justice was not for the diggers, as shown by the Bently affray.

“P’r’aps Bently was wrong. If he wasn’t the bloodthirsty villain they said,

He was one of the jackals that gather where the carcass of labour is laid.

‘Twas b’lieved that he murdered a digger, and they let him off scot-free as well,

And the beacon o’ battle was lighted on the night that we burnt his hotel.

“You may talk as you like, but the facts are the same (as you’ve often been told),

And how could we pay when the license cost more than the worth of the gold?

We heard in the sunlight the clanking o’ chains in the hillocks of clay,

And our mates, they were rounded like cattle an’ handcuffed an’ driven away.

“The troopers were most of them new-chums, with many a gentleman’s son;

And ridin’ on horseback was easy, and hunting the diggers was fun.

Why, many poor devils who came from the vessel in rags and down-heeled,

Were copped, if they hadn’t their license, before they set foot on the field.

“But they roused the hot blood that was in us, and the cry came to roll up at last;

And I tell you that something had got to be done when the diggers rolled up in the past.

Yet they say that in spite o’ the talkin’ it all might have ended in smoke,

But just at the point o’ the crisis, the voice of a quiet man spoke.

” `We have said all our say and it’s useless, you must fight or be slaves!’ said the voice;

” `If it’s fight, and you’re wanting a leader, I will lead to the end – take your choice!’

I looked, it was Pete! Peter Lalor! who stood with his face to the skies,

But his figure seemed nobler and taller, and brighter the light of his eyes.

“The blood to his forehead was rushin’ as hot as the words from his mouth;

He had come from the wrongs of the old land to see those same wrongs in the South;

The wrongs that had followed our flight from the land where the life of the worker was spoiled.

Still tyranny followed! no wonder the blood of the Irishman boiled.

“And true to his promise, they found him – the mates who are vanished or dead,

Who gathered for justice around him with the flag of the diggers o’erhead.

When the people are cold and unbelieving, when the hands of the tyrants are strong,

You must sacrifice life for the people before they’ll come down on the wrong.

“I’d a mate on the diggings, a lad, curly-headed, an’ blue-eyed, an’ white,

And the diggers said I was his father, an’, well, p’r’aps the diggers were right.

I forbade him to stir from the tent, made him swear on the book he’d obey,

But he followed me in, in the darkness, and – was – shot – on Eureka that day.

” `Down, down with the tyrant an’ bully,’ these were the last words from his mouth

As he caught up a broken pick-handle and struck for the Flag of the South

An’ let it in sorrow be written – the worst of this terrible strife,

‘Twas under the `Banner of Britain’ came the bullet that ended his life.

“I struck then! I struck then for vengeance! When I saw him lie dead in the dirt,

And the blood that came oozing like water had darkened the red of his shirt,

I caught up the weapon he dropped an’ I struck with the strength of my hate,

Until I fell wounded an’ senseless, half-dead by the side of `my mate’.

“Surprised in the grey o’ the morning half-armed, and the Barricade bad,

A battle o’ twenty-five minutes was long ‘gainst the odds that they had,

But the light o’ the morning was deadened an’ the smoke drifted far o’er the town

An’ the clay o’ Eureka was reddened ere the flag o’ the diggers came down.

“But it rose in the hands of the people an’ high in the breezes it tost,

And our mates only died for a cause that was won by the battle they lost.

When the people are selfish and narrow, when the hands of the tyrants are strong,

You must sacrifice life for the public before they come down on a wrong.

“It is thirty-six years this December – (December the first*) since we made

The first stand ‘gainst the wrongs of old countries that day in Eureka Stockade,

But the lies and the follies and shams of the North have all landed since then

An’ it’s pretty near time that you lifted the flag of Eureka again.

“You boast of your progress an’ thump empty thunder from out of your drums,

While two of your `marvellous cities’ are reeking with alleys an’ slums.

An’ the landsharks, an’ robbers, an’ idlers an’! Yes, I had best draw it mild

But whenever I think o’ Eureka my talking is apt to run wild.

“Even now in my tent when I’m dreaming I’ll spring from my bunk, strike a light,

And feel for my boots an’ revolver, for the diggers’ march past in the night.

An’ the faces an’ forms of old mates an’ old comrades go driftin’ along,

With a band in the front of ’em playing the tune of an old battle song.”

Here is an account of how the gold digger’s licensing came about and the reaction in Bendigo in particular. It is taken from the Bendigo Advertiser, 20 October 1888, as remembered by ‘A Young Bengionian’ who charts the gold city’s history from 1851 onwards and includes some of the colonial government announcements that set such discontent on the Victorian goldfields.

The first proclamation of the Lieutenant-Governor respecting the issue of licenses for gold digging, was dated August 16th, 1851. It was as follows:—  

PROCLAMATION. By His Excellency Charles Joseph La Trobe, Esquire, Lieutenant-Governor of the colony of Victoria and its dependencies, etc., etc., etc.

“Whereas by law all mines of gold, and all gold in its natural place of deposit within the colony of Victoria, whether on the lands of the Queen or any of Her Majesty’s subjects, belongs to the Crown, and whereas information has been received by the Government, that gold exists upon and in the soil of the colony, and that certain persons have commenced or are about to commence search- ing and digging for the same for their own use   without leave or other authority from Her Majesty, now I, Charles Joseph Latrobe Esquire, the Lieutenant Governor aforesaid, on behalf of Her Majesty, do hereby publicly notify and declare that all persons who shall take; from any lands within the said colony any gold, metal or ore, containing gold, or who, within any of the waste lands which have not yet been alienated by the Crown, shall dig for and disturb the soil in search of such gold metal or pre without having been duly authorised in that behalf by Her Majesty’s colonial Government will be prosecuted both criminally and civilly as the law allows; and I further notify and declare that such regulations as upon further information may be found expedient will be speedily prepared and published, setting forth the terms on which licenses will be issued for this purpose at the payment of a reasonable fee. Given under my hand and seal at the Government office, Melbourne, this fifteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and fifty one, and in the fifteenth year of Her Majesty’s reign. (O.S.) C. J. LA TROBE.

By His Excellency’s command.—W. LONSDALE.

“LICENSES TO DIG AND SEARCH FOR GOLD.” “Colonial Secretary’s Office, Melbourne,  

18th August, 1851.  

“With reference to the proclamation issued on the 16th instant declaring the rights of the Crown in respect to gold found in its natural place of deposit within the colony of Victoria. His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to establish the following provisional regulations, under which licenses may be obtained to dig, search for, and remove the same:—  

“1. From and after the first day of September next no person will be permitted to dig, search for, or remove gold on or from any land, whether public or private, without first taking out, or applying for a license in the form annexed.

“2. For the present and pending further proof of the extent of the gold deposits, the license fee has been fixed at one pound ten shillings per month, to be paid in advance, but it is to be understood that the rate is subject to future adjustment as circumstances may render expedient.

3. The licenses can be obtained on the Spot from the commissioner, who has been appointed by His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor to carry these regulations into effect, and who is authorised to receive the fee payable thereon.

“4. No person will be eligible to obtain a license or renewal of a license unless he shall produce a certificate of discharge from his last service, or prove to the satisfaction of the commissioner that he is not a person improperly absent from hired service.

“5. Rules adjusting the extent and position of   land to be covered by each license for the prevention of confusion and the interference of one license with another will be regulated by the Commissioner of Crown Lands who may be appointed to each locality.

“6. With reference to lands aliened by the Crown in fee simple, the commissioner will not be authorised for the present to issue licenses under these regulations to any persons but the proprietors or persons authorised by them in writing

to apply for the same.

‘By His Excellency’s command, W. LONSDALE.” The following is the form of gold license referred to:—  

“GOLD LICENSE.    No.—, 1851.  

“The bearer, —, having paid to me the sum of one pound ten shillings on account of the territorial revenue, I hereby   license him to dig, search for and remove gold on and from any such Crown land within the — — —, as I shall assign to him for that purpose during the month of —, 1851. This license must be produced whenever demanded by me or any other person acting under the authority of the Government.    

“(Signed) A.B.,  Commissioner.”

There was loud murmuring among the diggers at the enforcement of this law, but so intent were they on their work that they at first paid the tax with tolerable submissiveness, and gave little thought to the injustice of it. So rich were their earnings that, except in cases where the diggers had unfortunately struck a bad patch of ground, the tax was paid cheerfully. The manner in which it was collected, however, was calculated to create discontent, and the murmurings became distinct protests upon the issue of the following proclamation:—


“Colonial Secretary’s Office.

1st December, 1851.

“With reference to the proclamation of the 16th August last, and to the provisional regulations of the 18th of the same month, relative to the issue of licenses to dig and search for gold, his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to promulgate the following additional regulations:—    

“1. The license fee for one month or the greater portion of the month will be three pounds.

“2. Any person who may arrive on the ground and apply for a license on or after the 15th of any month will be charged half the above fee.

“3. All persons at the goldfield who are in any manner connected with the search for gold as tent keepers, cooks, etc., will be required to take out a license on the same terms as those who are engaged digging for it.

“4. The above regulations will take effect from and after the 1st of January, 1852, and continue in force until cancelled by any subsequent regulation. By His Excellency’s command,—W. LONSDALE.”

The Argus warned the Government of the danger of the step, and advised them to prepare for a serious outbreak among the diggers if the double fee were enforced. It stated that the diggers were reported as buying up guns, pistols and ammunition.

On the 8th December, 1851, a large placard appeared on the creek at Mount Alexander with reference to the £3 license. It read as follows:—

“Fellow diggers,—The intelligence has just arrived of the resolution of the Government to double the license fee. Will you tamely submit to the imposition or assert your rights like men? You  are called upon to pay a tax, originated and concocted by the most heartless selfishness. A tax imposed by your legislators for the purpose of detaining you in their workshops, in their stable yards, and by their flocks and herds. They have conferred to effect this; they would increase it seven-fold; but they are afraid! Fie upon such   pusillanimity, and shame upon the men, who, to save a few paltry pounds for their own pockets, would tax the labor of the poor man’s hands. That the precious metals are the property of the Crown has for long been decided by law; and that those who search for and obtain them pay a fair percentage of their earnings, as an acknowledgment of them is but right, but it is fair, is it just, that the gold-seeker, should pay as much as the gold-finder? Your legislators talk of the   difficulty of deciding upon some mode of licensing that will press equitably upon all; and because, forsooth, these sapient worthies cannot devise some scheme founded upon justice they must have re- course to one that is unjust and oppressive. It will be vain for one or two individuals to tell the Commissioner or his emissaries that they have been unsuccessful, and that they cannot pay the license fee. But remember that union is strength, that ‘though a single twig may be bent or broken a bundle of them tied together yields not nor breaks.’ Ye are Britons! Will you submit to oppression and injustice? Meet—  agitate—be unanimous; and if there is justice in the land they will—they must—abolish the imposition.—Yours faithfully, “A DIGGER.”      

A public meeting of 14,000 diggers was held near the Post-office on Monday morning, the 9th December, to oppose the £3 license fee. A Mr. Plaistowe was in the chair, and the meeting was addressed by Mr. Potts and Mr. J. Lineham. A. committee was formed, consisting of the follow- ing gentlemen, Messrs. M’Donald, Mannington, Isaacs, Muncke, Potts, Lineham, Watson, Campbell and Plaistowe.

Meetings were also held at Bendigo in front of Captain Harrison’s tent, on the 8th and 9th December, 1851, against the £3 license, Captain Harrison being the chairman. The meeting was addressed by Messrs. Frencham, Count Landostni (a Polish nobleman), Moss, M’Donald, Russell, M’Grath, Sandback and Regan. The various speakers strongly denounced the £3 license, and resolutions to stand by each other to the last in resist- ing it were unanimously carried; also a resolution of thanks to the Argus and Geelong Advertiser for their sympathy and support.

The movement was successful.

The Argus published the following in its issue of the 15th December:—  

“THE LICENSE FEE.—We believe that we are warranted in stating that the Government has seen the necessity of deciding that the exaction of the double license fee shall not be enforced. Very ‘firm’ and very judicious certainly, the whole proceeding.

The following notification appeared on the 15th December in the daily news in the columns usually occupied by Government Gazette notices:—  

“Colonial Secretary’s Office,   “13th December, 1851.    

Measures being now under the consideration of Government, which have for their object the substitution, as soon as circumstances permit of other regulations in lieu of those now in force, based upon the principle of a royalty, leviable upon the amount actually raised, under which gold may be lawfully removed from its natural place of deposit, his Excellency the Lieut. Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, hereby causes it to be notified that no alteration will for the present be made in the amount of the license fee as levied under the Government notice of the 18th August, 1851, and that the Government notice of the 1st instant is hereby rescinded. ”

By his Excellency’s command, W. LONSDALE.”

On the same day that this was issued a monster meeting of the diggers was held at Mount Alexander against the £3 license. The meeting was held at the Shepherd’s Hut near the post office. Flags were flying, a temporary platform in the shape of a dray was erected, and Hore’s band of music was present. The proceedings were commenced at 4 o’clock when Mr. J. F. Mann took the chair. After stating the object of the meeting, he introduced Mr. Potts to the assemblage, which numbered about 14,000. Mr. Potts delivered a very able and prudent address, and moved the first resolution , which was as follows:—”That     this meeting deprecates as unjust, illegal, and impolitic the attempt to increase the license fee from 30s. to £3.” The motion was seconded by Mr. J. O’Connor, and carried. At this stage Captain Harrison, with the delegates from Bendigo, made his appearance on the platform, and was very warmly received.

Mr. Lineham moved the second resolution, which was seconded by Mr. Doyle. It was as follows:—”That this meeting, “while deprecating the use of physical force, and pledging itself not to resort to it except in case of self defence; at the same time pledges itself to relieve or release any or all diggers that on account of non-payment of £3 license may be fined or confined by the Government orders or Government agents, should the Government have the temerity to proceed to such illegal lengths.”

Captain Harrison, one of the delegates from Bendigo, then addressed the meeting, and was received with deafening cheers,which lasted for some time. He made a telling speech and dwelt strongly on the fact of the diggers paying for protection, and getting none extended to them. The resolution was carried.

Dr. Richmond next addressed the meeting moving the 3rd resolution—”That delegates be   named from this meeting to confer with the Government, and arrange an equitable system of working the goldfields.” This was seconded by Mr. Potts and carried.  

Captain Harrison, Dr. Richmond and Mr Plaistowe were then appointed the delegates to the Government in Melbourne. The meeting was also addressed by Mr. Booley and Mr. Hud- son. Subscriptions were made for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the delegates to town, and a central committee formed for the purpose of carrying on the agitation in a proper manner. Cheers were given for the “Argus,” groans for the “Herald,” thanks to the chairman and the large meeting then dispersed.

Upon the news of the intention of the Government to abandon their proposal for the increase of the tax, the movement among the diggers subsided.


Sir,—As an old Bendigonian I feel much interested in your series of papers, “Bendigo Since ’51,” and especially last Saturday’s account of the digger hunting, and Mr. Haverfield’s own case of being captured, marched off and put into the logs, like a felon, for the fault of being temporarily poor. A fellow feeling makes me sympathize with him, for much the same thing was my own personal experience in August 1853. I was then at the seventh White Hill, busy washing off at tub and cradle, when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder, and “Your license, mate,” saluted my ear. Turning round, there was a “trap,” in those days a sort of semi-soldier constable, and on looking further around me there was a commotion like an ant-hill disturbed. Sub-commissioner C. C. Dowling and about twenty “traps” had come round Grassy Flat way, then all bush and scrub, and pounced upon the “hills” by surprise. I had     not been fortunate, and therefore unable to take out a license for either July or August, but I happened to have my June one with me, which I produced, hoping it would not be scrutinized closely for the date, but no such luck. This won’t do, says he, it is two months old, but I pleaded bad luck, etc., but no good. I was arrested and told to walk on before him till I came to where some ten or twelve others as unfortunate as myself were in a group near the site of the now Church of England parsonage, that being the rendezvous. When all had been gathered in that could be caught we were marched between the rank and file of police into the camp and at once taken up before M’Lachlan (Bendigo Mac.) Most of them were fined £5—had to take out a license, 30s. more, and were let go. When   my turn came, upon being formally charged with the offense in my nervous agitation, for I was a very young man then, and acutely felt the disgrace of the position my father’s son had got himself into, I pleaded “guilty in fact” but not “in deed,” at which M’Lachlan smiled, and, of course, his subordinates around smiled too, somewhat louder, but the laugh was in my favor. I meant to imply that I was guilty of the fact of not having the required license, but not willfully guilty, as I had taken one out up to June, but had since then got barely enough gold to buy food, etc., and holding my June license in one hand and a small chamois leather bag with 3s. 6d. in it in the other, I pleaded poverty, and what the French call extenuating circumstances. M’Lachlan was a severe magistrate at times, but he was just and discriminating, he asked me a few questions, and then said he would let me off if I took out a license at once, but the 3s. 6d. was all I had, “Oh! I cannot deal more leniently with you, fined 30s. or seven days’ imprisonment”. At that time the camp required some labouring work done, for which they paid 10s. a day. I was about being marched off to the logs for my seven days, but thinking of that I turned again to M’Lachlan, saying I was willing to work it out, meaning to give three days work to earn 30s. to pay for the license. “Oh! Very well,” he said, turning to someone,”see that he is put on in the morning.” I was then passed over to the warder, who at once showed me the inside of the door of the logs or lockup, which was built of rough bush logs, say 12 inches in diameter, notched into each other at the ends, so as to have them flush and close together, floor, walls and ceiling being all the same construction, with a roof of stringy bark over all. The place was in existence a few years ago, when it was pulled down. When my eyes got used to the semi darkness, for there was no light but through the crevices of the logs, I found myself in the company of about twenty others, some awaiting their trials for bushranging, or sticking up, manslaughter, stealing gold, assault and robbery of premises, etc., some drunkards, and three others like myself for no license. I shall never forget that night; about six o’clock a large boiler of hot tea was brought in, and put in the middle of the floor, with some pannikins, presently followed by some dampers of bread, just thrown down for the prisoners to scramble for as they pleased, and about two hours afterwards a miscellaneous lot of “bedding” was thrown in to be scrambled for, and in one instance fought for possession. I felt too sick at heart to assert claim to any of it, but not so another prisoner, who thinking, perhaps, he had grabbed more than his share, handed over to me what seemed like a part of a calico tent, about two yards square; and in another hour or so we were, if not asleep, all tolerably quiet; I at first found it difficult to get my hip and shoulder bones to accommodate them- selves to the rough hard inequalities of the logs, but eventually I must have settled down, for I managed to get some hours sleep. Daylight came at last, and we were, a few at a time, introduced to a tub of water outside, and then shown back again, tea and damper, for breakfast, and then all into the exercise yard, where Mr. M’Lachlan was. I ventured to remind him about going to work, and he ordered a constable to take me to the officer in charge of some work going on about the site of Mr. Gadd’s residence in the reserve, but we had not gone many yards when Mr. George Gibbs (late Gibbs and Lazarus), with whom I had recently been mates at the White Hills, happened to pass that way. A few words explained my position, he at once kindly produced the needful thirty shillings. The constable escorted me to the commissioners’ licensing tent, which was on the rising knob of ground to the right of the small gate almost in front of the police office. The thirty shillings was soon exchanged for a license, and I was again a free man. I believe I used a big D when I vowed I would never take out another. I have that one now. I never did, and it was abolished not very long after, but I had some narrow escapes from being again caught. Once a W.C. sheltered me from observation; another time I rushed into a tent, and the good wife hid me under the bed. The constable looked in, but not seeing any one there but Mr F. went on his way, and for a third escape I almost tumbled down a 12 foot hole and into the drives, where they dared not follow. Yes, those were hard and exciting times, but I was young, strong and sanguine, and now look back upon them, not without a good deal of pleasurable and affectionate memories after all.   —Yours, etc., G.F.W.   Sandhurst, 19th October.

G. Bathurst, February 7, 1853.

Songwriter and goldfield’s singer Charles Thatcher must have set the aisles rocking with this satire on government inefficiency and bumbling. He even dedicates the song to a mythical military character to make sure the boot was firmly placed.

The Private Despatch of Captain Bumble of the 40th stationed at Ballarat to His Excellency Sir Charles Hotham.

He writes thus to His Excellency;
Myself and Major Stiggings
Go our brave fellows all equipped
And started for the diggings.

Our band struck up God Save the Queen,
Into cheers our men were bursting,
And every gallant soldier was
For glorious action thirsting.

Our first attack was on two drays,
Which we saw in the distance,
But the enemy just surrendered,
After just a slight resistance.

We were disappointed in our search,
Of these two wretched traitors,
For instead of seizing powder,
It was loaded with potatoes.

At length into the diggings,
Footsore our men did tramp there,
And we took up our position
Within the Government Camp there.

We watched at night, but all was still,
For glory we were yearning,
And we fired upon a tent in which
A candle was seen burning

We killed a woman and a child,
Thought ‘twas not our intention.
But that slight mistakes sometimes occur,
Of course I needn’t mention …And so on for many verses!

Thatcher was certainly regarded as an irritant by many of the local administrators. The songwriter, always quick with what was described as a ‘local’ – a satirical song lampooning authority – and as hard as the officials tried to create the    pretense of calm, Thatcher would remind the diggers of the chaos. They were a rowdy mob indeed.

The Rowdy Mob

(Tune: Green Grow the Rushes, Oh)

This Ballarat`s a curious spot, at least I’m sure I‘ve found it so,

Bad luck is sure to be my lot, no matter to what part I go.

I really do feel quite unnerved, in fact it nearly makes me sob,

To think how shamefully I’m served, by that disgraceful rowdy mob.

On the Eureka I’d a share, in a fine claim upon the lead,

We bottomed, found it was ‘all there,’ the nuggets shaped up well indeed,

The water cheerfully we pumped, and made quite sure we`d have a lob.

The news got wind, and soon ’twas jumped by that designing rowdy mob.

Three months in sinking we had spent, we`d worked like slaves to get the gold

So off unto the camp we went, for `twasn’t pleasant to be sold.

The warden heard the grand dispute, he humm’d and ha’d and shook his nob,

Would you believe it now? the brute decided for the rowdy mob.

I got acquainted with a gal that kept a little sly grog tent,

She had dark eyes, her name was Sal, to visit her I often went.

Whilst there one day, to my surprise, an ugly fellow she called Bob,

Slipped into me and blacked my eyes, of course one of the rowdy mob.

If to the theatre I go, or to the `Charlie’ for a dance

A fight begins, and then I know I don’t stand even half a chance.

Although I try to walk away, I’m sure to get one for my nob,

‘That’s him’ some cove is sure to say, so I’m mauled by the rowdy mob.

The local press takes up the theme, for more police they loudly call,

Although it very strange may seem, their leaders do no good at all,

What signifies a few more traps, it is no use, so help me bob,

To every one of them ’ere chaps, there`s fifty of the rowdy mob.

l’ve freely spoken out my mind, to do so is my sole relief,

This song, though doleful, is, I find, my only safety valve for grief.

Although some cove may knock me fiat, for saying this, so help me bob,

l’m confident that Ballarat is governed by the rowdy mob.

One particular problem usually overlooked by gold historians is that of rebellious youths.  Girls were generally protected from the uncouth miners and were engaged in washing, sewing and garden work but the young boys apparently ran wild. Although some boys did light work they were more likely to be roaming the streets and causing problems. They were the first ‘larrikins’. Many of these boys were abandoned or orphaned boys, others were simply ‘let loose’ because their parents were obsessed with gold digging. This colourful extract from The Argus 3 July 1869 deals with the growing problem of the ‘colonial boy’.

As a jest, the colonial boy is stale; as a nuisance, he is chronic; as a serious social infliction he is a burr, of which there seems no getting rid. People are weary of talking of him, but their irritation is greater than their weariness ; so they continue to talk and they continue to devise impossible means of abolishing him. Like the poor, he seems destined always to be with us, and like them, too, he is greatly on the increase ; but, unlike them, he is not to be got rid of by legislation. A way might perhaps be found to dispose of all the paupers, but one cannot imagine a colonial-boy-law equal to the effort of getting rid of the colonial boy. It is true we passed, some years ago, the Industrial Schools and Reformatories Act, and this has enabled us to transform a good many boy nuisances into prospective good citizens but the class out of which the nuisance-boy brigade is raised is not the class upon which this statute operates. The colonial boy proper is not of necessity an abandoned offspring. He is only exceptionally a vagabond, and, more frequently than most people suspect, he belongs to what, for convenience sake, we may term the better classes of society. But whatever be his natural history, and however interesting it may be to speculate upon his origin and development, he is, what some popular orators are in the habit of terming, a great fact. And he is perennial, too. Flies and mosquitoes disappear in winter, so do hot winds and dust-storms; the caterpillar and green beetle pests are only occasional inflictions, and there are intervals between the accessions of cabbage blight, potato rot, and wheat rust. But there is no interval between the aggressions of the colonial boy, and nothing that may be injured or destroyed is secure from his attacks. But he is a cowardly creature, and, though both ferocious and malignant, he is sufficiently cunning to commit his acts of violence at a distance safe from interference. He is a gregarious animal, too, and is cautious in the selection of his victims. Singly, he would hesitate to knock down and kick even a helpless little child, but in companies of eight or a dozen, he will boldly attack young children, and beat, or as happened in a recent instance, kill them, and boast exultingly of his exploits. The young, the aged, and the helpless are necessarily in terror of him. Against cripples and deformed persons he seems to consider he has a right to protest by stoning or reviling them. In the use of i missiles he is an expert, and when human targets are not available, he l will keep his hand in by knocking out the glass of the street lamps or pelting dogs, goats, or fowls. Glass would appear to be one of the objects of his particular aversion. An empty house, unless it be in an extremely well-frequented thoroughfare, is sure to have all its windows broken before it has been untenanted a week. The gardens attached to houses to let are, in like manner, invariably doomed to destruction. It shall have taken years to bring a garden to a reasonable degree of usefulness, and in one day the colonial boy will lay it waste; the strange part of all such barbarism and violence being that it is purposeless. One can understand boys robbing an orchard, and in doing so perhaps breaking a branch or two; but any person of the least observant turn of mind must have seen in the suburbs around this city, dozens of examples of carefully tended gardens ruthlessly laid waste by these youthful vandals immediately the occupants have quitted them. Cruelty to the lower animals is another characteristic of the colonial boy. Sometime ago a number of them deliberately stoned to death an unfortunate horse that happened to have sunk over his fetlocks in a swamp at Richmond. But the great accomplishment par excellence of the colonial boy is foul language, and the delight it seems to afford him to station himself – gregariously, of course – at the corner of a street, and fling his colloquial foulness at passers by, is supreme. It is to be confessed that at cursing he is a master of his art. He revels in filthy objurgations and blasphemous expletives. His repertory of indecent epithets is unlimited, and he shows an ingenuity and a readiness at combining them which argues considerable verbal fertility. But the street is far from being the only place where the colonial boy congregates. He is the irrepressible element in all large indoor assemblies. It is he who at the theatre and at most concerts insists upon repetitions. He does the chief of the whistling, screaming, stamping, and hand-clapping. The decent, respectable portion of an audience is powerless against his demands; and singers and dancers respond meekly to his shrieks for a “hencore.” At the low singing-room he is more expansive still. There he rules supreme, and the character of the performance is carefully contrived to suit the peculiarity of his tastes. For if the low singing-room, with its associations, helps to develop the colonial boy, it is only fair that he should, for his part, help to develop the low singing-room. But on the question of the development of this irrepressible social nuisance, we may go back a little further than the singing-room, and inquire at what point the colonial boy enters upon his state of nuisance ; and the inquiry at once forces itself upon the attention al to what is the sort of domestic training which results in such an infliction upon society. Is it that, as a rule, the homes of the people being comfortless, boys are of necessity sent into the street to divert themselves |as they choose, and that, in revenge for. having no home comforts, they turn savages, and make guerrilla war upon that portion of society more advantageously circumstanced than themselves.

This is an unusual song in as much as it presumably comes from the voice of a non-English digger. ‘Wentworth’ mentioned in the first verse is William Charles Wentworth, ‘Thomson’ is Edward Deas Thomson, colonial secretary for New South Wales. This early rebellion song from the New South Wales diggings comes from the Empire 12 Feb 1853.

The Foreign Digger’s Song

Though Wentworth may bluster, and Thomson look glum,

I care not for either one crack of my thumb;  

But this I can tell them, their new license fee,

Will never be paid, though an alien, by me.

In peace I arrived, and in peace I’ll depart,

Should the land I have sought be no home of my heart.

But here while I’m one of a stout-hearted throng,

I’ll submit to privations, but never to wrong.

How vain thus to plead in Australia’s cause ;

She attracts by her wealth, and repels by her laws.

” Come, come !” cries her gold, and lo ! what a host !

“Off, off” say her laws, “from this tyrannous coast.”

Her rulers are rocks which some tempest-toss’d tide,

That baulks as it rises, submerging, may hide;  

For her her men of the mines are deeply imbued

With the spirit of freedom, can ne’er be subdued !    

In this land of high hopes, where such fortunes are made,

By the diligent use of the pick and the spade,

To till their own acres poor men may aspire,

And reap the full sheaf of each honest desire ;

Then heaven speed the cause of the gullies and glens,

And all who can aid, with their speeches or pens ;

The battle of Labour had ne’er such a field,

Since tyrants were taught by the masses to yield.  

The collecting of gold licenses was a farce. Troopers, often called ‘traps’ or ‘bobbies’, would arrive, usually on horseback, and immediately diggers would ‘disappear’, running down gullies, jumping down mine holes and generally hot-footing it to the nearby bushland. At the same time warning calls were made that echoed across the diggings – “Traps!”. As this comic song by Thatcher observes, the diggers were not often caught on the hop. This version comes from the Victorian Songster of 1855. One newspaper reported that whenever Thatcher sang the song he received ‘thunderous applause’.


Warren Fahey sings ‘Where’s Your License?” from ‘The World Turned Upside-Down’ album.


Where’s Your Licence!

(Tune: The Gay Cavalier)

The morning was fine,

The sun brightly did shine

The diggers were working away

When the inspector of traps

Said now my fine chaps

We’ll go license hunting today

Some went this way, some that

Some to Bendigo Flat

And a lot to the White Hills did tramp

Whilst others did bear

Up towards Golden Square

And the rest of them kept round the camp

Each turned his eye

To the holes close by

Expecting on some down to drop

But not one could they nail

For they’d give ’em leg bail

Diggers aren’t often caught on the hop

The little word ‘Joe!’

That most of you know

Is a signal the traps are quite near

Made them all cut their sticks

And they hooked it like bricks

I believe you, my boys, no fear

Now a tall, ugly trap

He espied a young chap

Up the gully a-cutting like fun

So he quickly gave chase,

But ’twas a hard race,

For mind you, the digger could run

Down the hole he id pop

While the bobby up top

Says – “just come up”, shaking his staff

“Young man of the crown.

If yer wants me come down,

For I’m not to be caught with such chaff.

Of course you’d have thought

The sly fox he’d have caught

By lugging him out of the hole;

But this crusher no fear

Quite scorned the idea,

Of burrowing the earth like a mole;

But wiser by half,

He put by his staff,

And as onward he went sung he-

“When a cove’s down a drive,

Whether dead or alive,

He may stay till doomsday for me.”

Here is another version of the same song as an example of how this particular song traveled into the oral tradition. There are slight changes throughout the song. It was published anonymously in The Queenslander (Brisbane) 27 October 1894.

License Hunting Today

(Tune: The Gay Cavalier)

The morning was fine,

The sun brightly did shine,

And the diggers were working away;

When the Inspector of “traps”  

Said, “Now, my fine chaps,  

We’ll go license hunting to-day !”

Some went this way, some that,

Some to Bendigo Flat,

And some to the White Hill did tramp;

While others did bear

Towards Golden Square,

While the rest kept an eye round the camp.

Now a tall, ugly trap

Espied a young chap

Up the gully a cutting like fun;

And quickly gave chase,

‘Twas a deuce of a race,

I believe you ! that digger could run.

Down a hole he went pop !

While the bobby up top

Says, “Come up here,” a shaking his staff;  

“Young man of the Crown !

If you want me, come down!

I’m not to be caught with such chaff !”

Now you would have thought

This sly fox he’d have caught

By dragging him out of the hole;

But the Crown-man! No fear !

He scorned the idea

Of going underground like a mole.

More wise he, by half,

He put up his staff,

And, as homeward he went, said he!

“When a cove’s down a drive,  

Whether dead or alive,

He can stop there till Christmas for me.”

Previously the only songs we knew of about license hunting came to us from Charles Thatcher so this one, sourced when prepared this collection, adds another. It was published as part of an article in The Star (Ballarat) 4 January 1858 where it attributed the song to Darby Doyle , who composed it for his friend Larry Finnegan, who was a regular singer at the Clydsedale Singingroom Hotel, Ballarat. The Commissioner of Licenses apparently wore a gold-laced cap as part of his uniform.

The Gold-Laced Cap

Oh ! listen to me both young and old,

While a tale of horror I unfold;

‘Tis about a chap with a gold-laced cap,

And an iron heart not worth a rap.

Ri too ral loo.

One day he dress’d himself so spruce,

And let the Government kennel loose,

They track’d the gully, and track’d the flat,

The devil knew what the boys were at.

At length the game burst on their view,

And the ranges rung with a wild halloo;

The Commissioner, a conceited chap,

On three hairs cocked the gold-laced cap.

(spoken) And so well he might, the tinseled vagabond. By the piper that played before Moses, the whole staff deserve to be brought up under the Vagrant Act. Hurrah! there goes a round speck ! This tub will shine!

The Commissioner proud, and stiff as starch,

Ordered the horse and foot to march;

While he would follow at a gentle pace

Through the ugly shicers that dotted the place.

But Kings and Commissioners have drop’d

From their high estate, the charger slop’d

And kick’d until-it is no lie, Sir,

He scat the Commissioner into a shicer.

(Spoken) And served him right. I’d lay a tall noggin that was an Irish horse.

A digger peep’d in when he heard him shout;

The Commissioner screamed, ” Oh, help me out.”

But when the gold cap came in view,

The red shirt cried, “I’m damned if I do”

A few minutes after was heard the tramp

Of a crowd of peelers from the Camp.

They ran to the scene of this sad mishap,

But nothing remained but the gold-laced cap.

A sulphurous smell came out of the hole,

That frightened the troopers, body and soul.

Away they ran with a horrible shout,

The devil has fossicked the Commissioner out.

Rumor asserts when he went below,

Without a license it was no go;

And little devils kicked him away from the trap,

Himself and his beautiful gold-laced cap.

So now he rambles the diggings at night,

The gold band shedding a ghastly light;

And frightened children are heard to lisp,

There goes Mr Commissioner, “Will o’ the Wisp.”

Ri too ral loo.

Here is Thatcher’s song about the ‘traps’. It is from the Victorian Songster of 1855. It is part one of a four-piece song.

The Song of The Trap.

(Tune: I’m Afloat)

I’m a trap, I’m a trap, and up here I abide;

The camp is my home, and my blue coat’s my pride.

Up, up with my staff, let it still protect me-

l’m a trap, I’m a trap, and the bobby is free.

I heed not the rowdies, I uphold the law,

I’ve handcuffs quite handy, a truncheon to draw,

And no fault l’ll look over, or prisoner let slip,

Without they come down pretty heavy with tip.

I’m a trap, I’m a trap, and up here I abide,

The camp is my home, and my blue coat’s my pride

Up, up with my staff, let it still protect me–

l’m a trap, I’m a trap, and the bobby is free.

The night now is dark, and a row p’raps is heard,

We rush to the conflict as swift as a bird;

What’s a shindy to us? we go in might and main-

We’ve cracked heads before, and can crack ’em again.

The blows thick as hailstones, around us may fall,

They may strike, bite, or kick, but they cannot appall;

We nail the ringleaders, and though they shout joe,

Straight off to the lock-up right onward we go.

Hurray, my brave pals, ye may all nobblerize,

There’s plenty more grog in the camp, and no flies;

My staff of defiance shall whirl around me –

I’m a trap, I’m a trap, and the bobby is free.