Events leading up to the Eureka Battle

There were few major events that lead to the battle at Eureka, these events most occurred in 1854.

The mining license

The issue of the gold license was one that was around from the very beginning.

The license was a strategic move by the government to help stock up the finance for the colony. The cost of the mining license was 30 shillings a month which is approximately $150 in today’s currency. The miners believed this was too high a price, especially since they did not have tlicence_inspect.jpghe right to vote, neither were their rights sufficiently represented or protected.

License checks were conducted by police on a regular basis. If a miner did not have a license or did not present it to the police then they would be rough with the miners, chain them to trees until they could be taken to prison. This led to fights between the miners and the police which resulted in more arrests.

The murder of James Scobie & the burning of the Eureka Hotel

On the 7th October 1854, a miner named James Scobie was found beaten to death not far from the Eureka hotel in Ballarat. The main suspect was James Bentley; the owner of the Eureka hotel. An investigation into Scobie’s death was done and Bentley was arrested but later released. It is believed this was because the police were dishonest and the magistrate was a friend of Bentley. Ten days later on the 17th October the miners called a meeting near the Eureka hotel to discuss the next course of action since Bentley was acquitted. Some of the miners at the meeting got carried away which started a riot. As a result of the riot, the Eureka hotel was burnt down.

The arrest of Johann Gregorious

was the servant of the Roman Catholic priest Reverend Father Smyth. On the 10th October 1854, he was arrested for not having a licence even though servants did not have licences. Gregorious was cripple (disabled) so when he was arrested he asked the trooper if he could go directly to the lock up rather than walk around chained to other miners who were arrested because he was not capable of walking that great distance or at a fast pace. The trooper took this to be resisting arrest and beat him. Gregorious was taken to lock up and had to pay to be released. The charge for not having a license ended up being reversed but the troopers kept Gregorious’s payment. As he was leaving the lock up Gregorious was called back by a trooper and was charged with assaulting his arresting trooper. This was an impossible feat due to Gregorious’s disability; he could not assault an able-bodied mountain trooper.

The public were outraged at what happened and felt it was an insult to the church and their religious beliefs.


The Eureka Battle

On Sunday the 3 December 1854, at 4:45am, the government attacked the Eureka stockade. Only a few people remained inside the stockade, most had gone home as they didn’t think they would be attached on a Sunday as people were supposed to be in church. When the soldiers attacked, the miners in the stockade where asleep. They were outnumbered two to one.

Twenty two miners and four soldiers were killed that day. Many more were injured.

The flight was over after a few short hours. Peter Labor was shot in the shoulder while trying to rally the miners. He escaped along with other. Those who did not escape were arrested.

The trials

After the battle, soldiers enforced the law because the normal rules had broken down. The soldiers arrested approximately one hundred (100) miners, who were taken to the Ballarat lockup. Thirteen (13) miners were charged with high treason for disloyalty to the Queen of England. The prisoner’s were held in harsh conditions and taken to Melbourne for the trial. If found guilty, the miners were to be hung.

There was enormous interest from the public about the trials, they tended to side with the miners against the government and newspapers wrote articles expressing their outrage at the situation. The government postponed the trials in hopes the public would lose interests but instead, the miners gained more interest from them as time went on.

When the trials finally commenced, all the defendants were found not guilty.

The importance of the Eureka Stockade

The Eureka battle resulted in changes for the better of Australia.

As a result of the battle, the government began an enquiry into the workings on the gold field. The government took public opinion into consideration when making the changes.

Some of the major changes were:

  • The miners were given the right to vote as well as stand for election in parliament.

  • The gold licenses were replaced with a miner’s right. This cost one pound a year, approximately $100.

  • There were no more license hunts.

  • The gold commissioners and troopers were replaced by officers who were elected by people who held a miner’s right. They were called a ‘Court of Mines’.

  • Government land was opened for sale.

Click here to see the Eureka Stockade Time Line

Reference (Original Eureka flag Image)

Parry, A (2007). The Gold Rushes: Riots, Robberies and Rebellions. South Yarra: Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd