Australia in the 1850s

Eureka Stockade

At the beginning of the 1850s, there was growing unrest among the miners. The government imposed a 30 shillings per month licence fee in order for the miners to work their claim. Police were sent to the goldfields to enforce the payment and were known to use unwarranted force when dealing with miners who did not, or could not, pay. In 1851, miners at Bendigo in Victoria held a large protest rally that began a movement for political change. The miners set about petitioning the government to revoke the licence fee.

On 1 August 1853, the 'Bendigo Goldfields Petition' was presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe (18011875). It had been signed by over 5,000 miners from across the Victorian goldfields and stretched for more than 13 metres in length. In response, the colonial government proposed doubling the cost of a miner's licence and the Governor of Victoria Sir Charles Hotham (18061855) ordered more frequent licence inspections.

In October 1854, a digger called James Scobie (18261854) was killed outside the Eureka Hotel in Ballarat. When the three people charged with his murder were acquitted, the miners suspected bribery and marched to the hotel to burn it down. In November 1854, the Ballarat Reform League was formed and several thousand miners adopted a program of radical reform to bring change on the goldfields and to claim political rights. Relations between the miners and the government deteriorated and at the end of November, under the leadership of Peter Lalor (18271889), the miners unfurled the rebel Southern Cross flag and swore to defend their rights and liberties.

Early on Sunday 3 December 1854, a battle took place at Ballarat between miners and government troops at the Eureka Stockade. About 30 miners and at least five soldiers died in the fighting. Peter Lalor was badly wounded. This rebellion became a symbol of democratic protest and a milestone in the political history of the colony of Victoria.

The remaining 13 rebel miners were brought to trial accused of high treason, but the juries for each miner refused to convict them as popular opinion labelled the rebels heroes. Governor Hotham set up a Royal Commission that looked at the reasons for the rebellion and eventually abolished the licence, replacing it with a Miner's Right. This fee cost £1 a year and gave miners the right to mine gold and entitled its bearer to a vote in parliamentary elections.

Eureka Stockade_1850

A snapshot of 1858

  • January
    • A telephone line opened between the Sydney GPO and South Head.

  • May
    • New South Wales followed the lead of Victoria and South Australia to become the third colony to introduce the principle of manhood suffrage for parliamentary elections.

  • June
    • A huge gold nugget named the Welcome Nugget weighing 68.98 kilograms was found at Ballarat.

  • August
    • The Aborigines' Friends' Association (AFA) was formed at a public meeting in Adelaide in South Australia.

  • September
    • The first recorded game of Australian Rules Football was played between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar.

  • October
    • The first intercolonial electric telegraph line was officially opened between Adelaide and Melbourne.


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